The implications of phony trends

In reading through my daily Google alerts for “fatal fires,” I found a few things to take issue with, which I will write about in my following posts. But for the most part, I found the coverage to be serviceable. There was one article, however, that I found appalling.

It was from The Globe and Mail, a Canadian publication. The article was titled “A look at fatal fires involving retirement and nursing homes in Canada.” It started by referencing a fire that occurred that day, and used that to launch into, well, what the headline says. A fire that happened that day wasn’t even the point of the article, but merely a launching pad for an exploration of this “trend.” That in itself is pretty disgraceful, I think. Sure, context is important, but you at least have to give the fire — especially a fatal one — its own news story. Using it merely as material for the lede comes off as flip and a tad disrespectful. So yes, that was bad.

But it gets worse.

The trend. Oh dear lord, the trend. Let me just copy/paste all the years listed in this very important and scientific “look.”

Dec. 2, 1969. Feb. 10, 1948. July 14, 1980. Dec. 26, 1976. Jan. 19, 2009.

They’re not even in chronological order, for Christ’s sake.

Maybe Canadians are just smarter, and this publication assumes that you’ll be able to see that five incidences in 61 years does not exactly equate to a trend. Maybe. But I doubt it. Again, context is great, but by putting these dates in a bullet-pointed list, you imply that there is a trend, that this is an ongoing problem that people need to worry about. Heck, you do that just by writing this “A look at…” article in the first place.

If you’re going to mention that something like this has happened before, you need to contextualize your information. “Fatal fires have occurred in Canadian nursing homes before,” you could write, “but with little frequency.” Or something like that.

As we’ve learned, it’s just as harmful for people to worry about stuff that they don’t need to as it is for them not to be concerned with real problems. Why can’t we make sure that we’re not adding to the harm with our reporting? Eh?


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