Reading the News: Playing It Too Safe

By Mike Feinsilber

Pace of hiring probably slowed
In March, economists forecast
—Washington Post, page a8, 4/5/2013

What’s wrong with that headline?

Two words: probably and forecast. You can say that something is probably going to happen. Or you can forecast that something will happen. But not both.

Another thing: The headline makes it appear that these economists are making a prediction about something that already happened—like predicting yesterday’s weather. What the economists were predicting on April 4 was what the April 5 report on hiring in March would show. They were forecasting the contents of a report about hiring.

In this instance, the headline writer took his cue from the story’s writer, who made the same errors. He wrote: “Businesses probably slowed down their pace of hiring in March, economists predicted, after surprisingly strong gains the previous month.”

That’s overly cautious journalism.

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