NYT Puts Fox Business Spin in Context

This one’s a small thing, but one that too many journalists don’t do—probably because we’re stereotypically bad at math.

Brian Stelter of The New York Times looks at how Fox Business News is doing in the ratings now that it’s coming up on its second anniversary. He notes the good news is that there are enough people watching it now that it actually shows up in the ratings—21,000 during the day—but that’s still extremely low.

This Fox exec tries to dress that pig up with this bit of spin:

Kevin Magee, an executive vice president, said that his channel’s audience was “up 188 percent” while CNBC was “down 27 percent.”

“These are gigantic trend numbers,” he said.

Sure are, but Stelter follows this flackery immediately with the caveat that “The increases for Fox Business, of course, come from such a small base that it makes wild percentage gains relatively easy to earn. CNBC’s audience is more than 10 times the size of the Fox Business audience.”

So the real gigantic trend number is that CNBC’s audience is still at least ten times the size of Fox’s. FBN will not be getting 188 percent growth numbers for very long at all.

This is a lesson for business journalists to keep in mind when they’re doing numbers stories: It’s easy to post huge percentage increases off a small base. It’s harder when you’re big and mature. Thus, Twitter, say, can post thousands of percentage point increases in users from last year, while Yahoo can’t.

Nice job by Stelter to hip-check this spin (although I would have liked to have seen more context for the numbers: CNBC’s down 27 percent from what/when?).

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.