Saturday, March 18, 2023


Reporting by Press Release

Just to prove that statistics are good liars, the Democrat and Chronicle (hereinafter known as the DnC) had a big front page article about how New York leads the nation in death by house fire.  This seems true enough. We have 45 dead to date this year, followed by Indiana with 29, Pennsylvania and Georgia with 25 each.  Impressed?  Well, that is one statistic. 

They make you study statistics in journalism school... not that I ever went to journalism school... but after working it out with my calculator, I can tell you these headline grabbing numbers are comparing big potatoes to small potatoes, if not apples and oranges. The better statistic, deaths per 100,000 population, tells us Indiana should lead the list, with .426 house fire deaths per 100,000; Georgia is next with .231.  and New York third with .227.  Pennsylvania is fourth with .194. So, when you get the numbers right, you are deprived of  their headline grabbing quality.

The truth is that the entire story is a gift from the Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY, AKA the firefighters union or the union), and required little more journalism than rewriting the FASNY press release.  The union was announcing a lobbying campaign to get more state money for hiring and training fire code inspectors and promoting code enforcement.  Not that there is anything wrong with that. I support more money for code enforcement and better pay for all public employees. I also pray daily for better journalism.  

There is a much bigger story here that would take a lot more work than  Steve Lieberman, the reporter, who works for the Rockland/Westchester News Journal, part of  the USA Network (which includes the DnC, has had time to invest.  That is possibly because Rockland/Westchester is something like the DnC which once had an editorial  staff of hundreds, and how counts its' reporters in the lower two digits, and  ost of them are sports or food writers.  

There is a bigger story here.  That lack of code enforcement and training? Local budgets squeezed to the point where government is practically useless.  Is there a housing shortage? Why, because owner-occupied housing is being rapidly replaced by houses converted into single room occupancy rentals, forcing more and more  people into fewer and fewer spaces?  And how does that relate to increased rents?  (Hint: a four bedroom house rented as an SRO can generate at least $2,400/month.)  Does the code enforcement force the closure of what little housing is available?  Is it possible to build new housing that can be rented to meet the needs of people who have no money?  

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