Ben Langhinrichs

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September, 2006
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Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Sat 16 Sep 2006, 09:26 AM
I was reading a story on CNN today (here, for what it is worth), and I came upon the following paragraphs:
New York is the clearest example. Its cost of living is double the national average, according to data from ACCRA. Put another way, in New York, $200,000 is the new $100,000 paycheck.

But that $200,000 doesn't really mean you can afford the same lifestyle that $100,000 could buy in lower-cost cities like Cleveland or Denver.

Consider inflation. Over the past 12 months through May, overall inflation in New York metropolitan area was 4.8 percent. In Cleveland, the rate was 3 percent. Drilling down, you also see big differences. The cost of having a roof over your head went up 5.6 percent in New York, while in Cleveland it rose just 0.8 percent.
When I read a story such as this, I notice that I pay much more attention when the subject happens to be even peripherally about Cleveland (or Philadelphia or Buffalo, other places I have lived).

So, why not make these stories dynamic?  On the web, it is not hard to tell when someone is in the Cleveland area, so why not use it as the example in cases such as this where the economic data is available for lots of cities.  If you were in Denver, it could use Denver:
The cost of having a roof over your head went up 5.6 percent in New York, while in Denver it rose just 1.2 percent.
If you were in St. Louis, it could use St. Louis:
The cost of having a roof over your head went up 5.6 percent in New York, while in St. Louis it rose just 1.6 percent.
  And, of course, if you were in New York City or one of the "high priced" cities, it could use Cleveland or whatever the default low cost city was.  This wouldn't have to be terribly in your face, and should be done so that it would not matter terribly if they guessed incorrectly.

If that example doesn't seem compelling enough, how about the stories that are something like "Top 10 cities to live in" or other such stories that have lots of data, but only show ten of the hundreds of cities for which data has been collected?  In those stories, it is very frustrating that there is often no link to a full list.  In the absence of the full list though, why not determine whether you are in one of the top ten, and if not, if you are among the other several hundred?  If you are, a sentence could be added that said, "By comparison, Cleveland is number 114, with a cumulative rating of 3324", or whatever.  That level of personalization could only serve to pique people's interests a bit more in what they read, and isn't that what news sources want?

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