Accuracy in Media

This week Mashable offered its readers this amazing piece of handwaving about numbers.

For some context, Amazon is currently worth $300 billion – $400 billion. That value fluctuates thanks to stock value: In 2018, its worth climbed to more than $1 trillion. But it’s safe to say Amazon is worth hundreds of billions.

The value of Amazon is something that is easily checkable. It’s quoted on a stock market, meaning that it is possible to add up the value of all the stock in issue and say exactly how much the company is worth. In fact, NASDAQ does this for us: “Market Cap 1,676,754,276,720.” Or, for those who went to journalism schools and did the words, not the numbers, near $1.7 trillion.

So, yes, we could say that it’s safe to say Amazon is worth hundreds of billions, 16-going-on-17-hundreds-of-billions, in fact.

Our point is not that this is an easily checkable fact. One that perhaps should have been checked. Rather, it’s that what is anyone doing trying to write journalism about business and economic size and heft without either having a rough idea of how much Amazon is worth or knowing where to look it up?  After all, they’ve got the idea that the value of Amazon fluctuates according to stock value – why the difficulty in understanding that stock markets are where you look up stock value?

Mashable is just outside the top 100 sites for computer and technology news and gains some 8 million visits a month from being so. We’d all rather hope that such a part of the media was a little more accurate, no?

As we’ve said about the journalistic attitude toward numbers before. If they’re this bad on the simple things that are easy to check then how awful are they on more complex subjects like the economy, or policy about it? Specifically here, if they can’t work out that stock markets are where you check stock values then just where are they getting the rest of their information from?

Why should we trust them on complicated things?

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