To: Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor, New York Times

.@nytimes, @Sulliview: Put Budget Numbers in Context

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In reporting on budget debates, the New York Times should put budget numbers in context, by reporting budget items as a share of a larger budget instead of merely in dollar terms.

Why is this important?

[UPDATE: New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has responded to this petition:
"The Times Is Working on Ways to Make Numbers-Based Stories Clearer for Readers"]
Economist Dean Baker writes:
"It is the media’s job to inform the public about the budget. They are clearly failing badly. A major reason is very simple. When they write about the budget they almost never put the numbers in context.

As a result, readers might hear that we’re spending $15 billion on foreign aid or $400 million on the CPB [Corporation for Public Broadcasting] and think that this is a lot of money...But it is not a lot of money for the federal government.

This point would be immediately apparent in every news report on the budget if the standard practice were to report budget items as a share of the budget instead of in dollar terms. Telling readers that spending on CPB takes up 0.012 percent of the budget immediately tells them how important this spending is to the government. Telling readers that we’re spending $400 million on CPB tells the overwhelming majority of readers almost nothing...

Fortunately the New York Times has a public editor, Margaret Sullivan, who takes journalistic standards seriously. There is good reason to believe that if enough people were to raise this issue with her that she would look into the issue and press the matter with the paper’s editors.

If the New York Times were to change its practice for budget reporting most of the rest of the media would almost certainly follow. The NYT is recognized as the preeminent newspaper in the country. Their standards are taken seriously by everyone."

-"The Tea Party and the New York Times Shut Down the Government," Dean Baker, Truthout, 14 October 2013