Misinformation

Yea, no one was listening.

On July 8 the New York Times ran an article by Sam Dillon under the attention-grabbing headline “Colleges Spend More on Recreation Than Class.” This was an interesting revelation and lots of people, including, well me, wrote about this enthusiastically. Scandal!

Well a scandal it may be, but it’s actually a rather more minor one. It turns out colleges continue to spend more money or education than they spend on recreation and administration. In the corrected version of the story the Times clarified that the study Dillon referenced indicated merely that colleges’ “share of spending on recreation was rising more quickly than the share of spending on instruction.”

The trouble was other media had already picked up the story. As Elyse Ashburn explains over at the Chronicle of Higher Education (login required):

Generalizations are tricky, just as much as they are the lifeblood of the modern regurgitating media. As fewer and fewer news outlets do their own reporting on higher education and as blogs proliferate, an error or misimpression all too easily becomes conventional wisdom. And the Times, because of its reputation and influence, has an outsize ability to sway what others report.

Well that’s true, but it wasn’t actually necessary for other media outlets to do their own reporting to figure out what was going on here. The Dillon article was based on a widely-available study by the Delta Cost Project. Just reading the report wouldn’t have been terribly difficult.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer