Wednesday, March 24, 2004

My thoughts on the gas

Newsdesigner started a nice rant on Testy Copy Editors about stories such as this one on the average price of gasoline reaching an all-time high.

Yes, it's true that the average price of gas is at a record high. But not when you adjust for inflation. (Now, try doing a search for "inflation" in that CNN story linked above.)

Why does this matter? A dollar doesn't buy as much house as it did in 1970, and it doesn't buy as much gas, either. We have a duty to display these numbers in a meaningful way. Simple cost comparisons won't cut it.

Should we disregard this story, then? No. Rising gas prices affect people. A AAA spokesman put it this way in a Reuters story, "Economists may find it helpful to discuss inflation adjustment, but a big increase in the monthly gasoline bill is a large burden to this country's families and businesses regardless." We just need to explain this rise in a way that's not misleading.

Gasoline prices hit record high, AAA says — Philadelphia Inquirer
Analyst: Comparison Finds Gas Prices Aren't So Bad — Associated Press
Taking Inflation Seriously — Columbia Journalism Review
Cost-of-Living Calculator — News Engin
Indexing, Deflating and Adjusting — IRE training sheet
What is the real price of gas? —


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