Sunday, January 6, 2013
Top 10 stories of 2013 - No. 2
At the end of the year, publications often do a recap of what they deem to be the biggest stories of that calendar year. But I dance to a different drummer so below the reader will find the first two potential Top 10 stories I would like to read in 2013. To keep the posts from being too long, I will post them separately over the next several days. They will not appear in any particular order - it isn't possible to predict the impact of stories until all the facts are known so there is no way of predicting which will prompt the most impact and/or interest.
So here we go...
2013 Story No. 2
Many news outlets are increasingly using press releases on which to base stories without looking at the underlying data and/or seeking out other information. Often the releases are from special interest groups that have a fixed position and their own agendas.
I began my writing career as a ghost writer for scientists and learned early in the process that "confounders" can completely negate the validity of the research if not acknowledged and taken into consideration when trying to reach a defensible conclusion.
An excellent example of how ignoring confounders can affect journalism can be found in this editorial that recently appeared in the Virginian Pilot:
The editorial, based on an earlier news story in that publication, proclaimed that there has been no crisis on Hatteras Island due to beach access restrictions. And, in fact, it states that 2012 has proven to be a banner year for the Outer Banks - according to occupancy tax collections and attraction visitation statistics.
The occupancy tax collection totals by district can be found at this link.
The county-wide occupancy tax collection totals by year are available at this link.
Attraction visitation statistics can be accessed at this link.
It would be refreshing to see them go back to the drawing board and actually look at and analyze the data, develop an understanding of what it means, and poke around a bit to find the confounders. I don't think it is possible to quantify what the economic impact has been to Hatteras Island - because there are too many confounders. And I also think that a review and further research might not result in proclaiming that the Outer Banks had a record-setting number of visitors. I do think that there is a very good story to be found but they will have to look for it.
Here are some questions I'd like to see them ask:
1. What is an occupancy tax and exactly what is it charged against?
2. Comparing year-to-year totals of tax collected, how are the reports adjusted to keep an apples-to-apples basis? Are increases in rental rates accounted for? Are new services provided that increase the amount of tax paid by the renter noted?
4. How is it possible to take a tax collection total and translate it into the number of actual visitors?
5. In the past five or six years, have any IRS rulings changed what the tax is applied against and thus had a major impact on the total collected?
6. Attraction visitation statistics are gathered in a wide assortment of ways by the reporting venues. The National Park Service uses a traffic counter to collect information about how many cars drive through the Seashore which begins near Whalebone Junction in Nags Head and ends on Ocracoke Island, south of Hatteras Island. How does the traffic count separate vehicles driving back and forth to work, supply trucks delivering merchandise and DOT vehicles from those driven by tourists?
7. Is the traffic count reflective of tourists visiting the Seashore or simply of the number of vehicles using NC 12? How many vehicles go to destinations such as Coquina Beach and Bodie Island Lighthouse which are north of Oregon Inlet? How many cross Bonner Bridge to go only as far as Pea Island? How many to Hatteras Island? How many to Ocracoke Island?
8. Why don't the statistics for Cape Hatteras Lighthouse correlate with the increases/decreases in the traffic count?
9. What is the unemployment rate since 2007 to present for Dare County for the month of October? What is the rate for that same period north of Oregon Inlet? South of Oregon Inlet?
10 What is the total annual amount of food stamps issued in Dare County from 2007 to present date? North of the Oregon Inlet? South of Oregon Inlet?
11. When were tourists evacuated off Hatteras Island before Hurricane Irene?
12. When was access via NC 12 to the island opened to the public after the hurricane?
13. Where did all the visitors listed as going to the seashore come from in September and October 2011 since most of NC 12 south of the inlet was closed to the public?
14. In November 2011, there was an influx of visitors reported as going to the Seashore. Was this unusual increase in traffic on NC 12 due to tourists flooding into the area to see the destruction? Or were a large number of the visitors employees of FEMA and other agencies who went in to help with relief and recovery efforts? Could some of the travelers have been insurance adjusters who had waited for the road to open because they didn't want to spend several hours riding ferries which provided transportation while the road was closed? And was there an usual amount of construction crews and materials going into the area?
The answers to these questions are all obtainable - just takes a real newsperson to search them out.