Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Style & Substance -- and a rebuttal

The latest Style & Substance newsletter, from the Wall Street Journal's Paul Martin, has been published. Two points stand out.

The first is on grandmothers :
A story about an Ohio real-estate broker referred to her as a 60-year-old grandmother. Other stories on the front page that day didn't identify various long-in-the-tooth male executives as grandfathers, although they probably were, a reader pointed out. The description grandmother, in fact, should be a red flag to editors by now, and they should ask themselves whether they would identify an equivalent male as a grandfather in a story that didn't focus on his grandchildren. The result usually will be the deletion of grandmother.
The second is about markup:
In retailing, as we have preached, a 100% increase from the cost is really a 50% markup. Retailers divide the difference by the selling price rather than by the buying price to determine the markup or gross profit.

So consider this scenario presented in a page-one article: The laboratory charges a doctor $30 to analyze a skin biopsy and the insurer "reimburses the doctor an average of $109 per biopsy interpretation, allowing the doctor to realize a profit of 263%."

In the usual market terminology, the doctor's markup in this case is really 72%, although one might also say the doctor is reimbursed at more than three times his cost.
Doug Fisher, at Common Sense Journalism, makes this reasoned response:
Now, the Journal, focused on the business communtiy and its conventions, may have to follow this reasoning. But I wonder about whether ethically most of us should do this when I'll bet you that is not the way the public interprets things. If I pay you $80 for a vacuum you've bought for $40, you've doubled your money. That's a 100 percent profit to my mind -- and I'll bet to yours, too, unless you're in retailing.
Doug suspected retailer manipulation, but the head of the University of South Carolina's Center for Retailing wrote in to tell him that it's more tradition. Some retailers figure markup/cost, some markup/retail.

Fine, but that's confusing to me. And Doug. It's gotta be confusing for readers.

Doug follows up with:
Is it a case of twisting things in the retailer's favor? Maybe not. But it is ambiguity. And just as we resist attempts by other institutions to shape the language and facts to their liking (think "homicide bomber" instead of "suicide bomber" and the reactions that brought), it's at least incumbent on us, if we are going to use industry jargon/standards like this, to explain how they differ from most people's common perceptions.


At 1:27 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

All this numbers talk has caused a onefold increase in the intensity of my headache.


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