Did the NYT Redo a Euro-Zone GDP Report Because of an NB Post?
Well, if they didn't, it's sure one heck of a coincidence.
At about noon on May 15, I noted (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) that a New York Times report by Matthew Saltmarsh teased at its home page (pictured at right) reported Euro-Zone gross domestic product (GDP) contractions on a "from the previous quarter" basis (a longstanding EU custom), but presented the first quarter 2009 contraction in the U.S. as "annualized" (which is our custom).
This surely caused many less than careful Times readers, and even more of those who only saw the home-page headline, to conclude that the recession in Europe, where the overall "from the previous quarter" contraction was -2.5%, has not been nearly as severe as the recession in the U.S. That isn't the case. The comparable "from the previous quarter" contraction in the U.S. during the first quarter was about 1.6% (-6.1% annualized). Given the paper's troubled financial situation, I suggested that someone should spring for $3.49 calculators for both Saltmarsh and Times headline writers so they could do their jobs correctly.
It looks as if instead of buying new calculators, the Times brought in a new reporter.
For some reason, Carter Dougherty wrote a new article on the topic using the exact URL where Saltmarsh's work had been. Dougherty's report is what appeared in the May 16 print edition.
You'll note in the excerpt that Dougherty addressed my two principal complaints. The reporter annualized the Euro-Zone's overall contraction for readers, and emphasized that Europe's recession has been much worse than ours (bolds are mine):
In Europe, Major Economies Shrank in First Quarter
By CARTER DOUGHERTY
Published: May 15, 2009
FRANKFURT — European economies contracted sharply in the first quarter of 2009 as activity stalled across the region after convulsions in the global financial system last year, according to reports released Friday.
Europe went through an even steeper fall than the United States, probably representing the worst point in the economic cycle for the region, economists said. They added that the recession was likely to continue for at least several more months and that steep rises in unemployment were still likely.
The economy in every major European country has fallen this year.
For both the 27-nation European Union and its subset, the 16 countries that use the euro, gross domestic product shrank 2.5 percent in the first three months, a 10 percent annual rate, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office. Both areas shrank 1.4 percent in the last quarter of 2008.
..... The American economy, in recession since December 2007, contracted at an annual rate of 6.1 percent in the first quarter, the United States Commerce Department estimated.
The only remaining quibble I would have is that a 2.5% quarterly contraction, compounded, is really a -10.4% annualized decline.
Meanwhile, Matthew Saltmarsh's work has totally disappeared, and he is not identified as a contributor to Dougherty's report. This search at the Times on Saltmarsh's last name shows no reference of any kind to his May 15 "Euro-Zone Economy Shrinks 2.5% in Quarter" original. Fortunately, that original can be found in full at AARP Bulletin Today and at this link (scroll to Page 3). Also, for the sake of posterity, not to mention your truly's posterior, the full text of Saltmarsh's article is now resting comfortably here at my web host.
Perhaps it isn't that unusual for a reporter to completely take an article over from another reporter. But I haven't seen it happen before at the Times or anywhere else. It seems more than a little likely that the Times, dissatisfied with Saltmarsh's work after seeing or learning of the NewsBusters/BizzyBlog critique, tasked Dougherty with getting it right. Regardless of why it all happened, Dougherty's mathematically superior report did a better job of informing readers, and we can at least be grateful for that.
Finally, for those who missed the full story the first time around, here is how 4Q08 and 1Q09 contractions in the Euro-Zone, selected countries, and the U.S., as originally reported by Saltmarsh, compare:
No, you're not imagining things. According to the governments' relevant reports, France's economy has contracted less than ours during the past two quarters.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.