Staff Columnist

How to reconcile the news

Newspaper broadsheets are folded as they are printed. (Gazette Archives)
Newspaper broadsheets are folded as they are printed. (Gazette Archives)

What’s a news consumer to do when confronted with two factual news reports that appear contradictory?

If the conversations I’ve had with readers are an indication, it appears several people were confused by news reports in the June 27 edition of the paper.

One story, featured on that edition’s cover, proclaimed a “report finds Iowa children well off.” Two pages later in the same section, another headline, quoting a different report, noted that “37 percent of Iowa households cannot meet basic needs.”

“It seems like The Gazette just can’t bear to let good news about Iowa stand; had to find another report to negate it,” one caller said.

Another who works with school children was exasperated with the cover story, which she said didn’t match what she sees every day and knows to be true.

Some attendees at our Pints and Politics event last week found the two news reports unreconcilable and were prepared to dismiss them both as more evidence of “research with an agenda.”

But regardless of which report readers chose to give more weight, the common thread among commenters was the research findings described in these two news reports couldn’t coexist; that they couldn’t both be true. The reality, however, is that both are a factual and fair snapshot of Iowa’s families.

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Kids Count data featured on the cover compares the well-being of Iowa children with children in other states. So, comparatively, Iowans are doing quite well.

Michael Crawford, Iowa Kids Count director and senior associate with the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines, made this point: “Compared to the U.S. as a whole, we are doing very well, but comparing Iowa to itself, where we were five to 10 years ago, there’s a few indicators we could work to improve.”

In contrast, the United Way’s Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed (ALICE) report was purely focused on the condition of Iowans, living in Iowa. It sought answers to the question of how much it costs to live in a place, and whether residents can consistently pay that price.

If you think about the two reports focusing on a single household in a neighborhood, the Kids Count report would compare the well-being of that household to all the others around it. Depending on how those neighbors are doing, an economically struggling household could look far better by comparison. But, as was done in the ALICE report, focusing on the one household and its ability to make ends meet can provide a completely different perspective.

Understanding that both reports are fair representations of our state and its people should lead us to the next level of discussion. Namely, are we content to be better than another state, or are we ready to reach for an ideal?

Valuable information resides in comparison reports, especially those with a long history of data. Measurement trends can show where a state is doing well, and where more attention is needed. But to get to that point, we have to dig into research methodology and, most important, look beyond where Iowa sits in the “rankings.”

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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