Meta Urban Geekery: Is It Possible to Talk About Demographic Change Without Editorializing?
A few days ago, Atrios flagged a lede graf in the Washington Post's write-up of a Brookings report on the changing nature of the suburbs, asking: "Nobody noticed what's wrong with this paragraph?" It reads:
The idealized vision of suburbia as a homogenous landscape of prosperity built around the nuclear family took another hit over the past decade, as suburbs became home to more poor people, immigrants, minorities, senior citizens and households with no children, according to a Brookings Institution report to be released Sunday.
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting made the complaint more explicit, translating reporter Carol Morello's phrasing as socioeconomic fear-mongering: "The traditional image of the U.S. suburb is being spoiled as they become less wealthy, white and native-born," wrote Steve Randall.
When you start looking at it that way, other phrases like "nuclear families are outnumbered" and "suburbs already are facing a rising tide of poor residents" start to make you feel like white suburbanites are under seige.
I certainly hadn't read the story that way initially, though. To my ear, "homogenous landscape of prosperity built around the nuclear family" already sounds like a bad thing, and if it's taking a hit, it's about time. Plus, calling this image "idealized" already suggests that it may not ever have been a real thing anyway. Sure, the reporter could have cast it in a different light by saying, "the suburbs have over the last decade been enriched and vitalized by an influx of hard workers from different cultures," but that might have been seen as editorializing as well.
Here's another lede, from the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON – White flight? In a reversal, America's suburbs are now more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population as many younger, educated whites move to cities for jobs and shorter commutes.
Well, that's a factual statement, and it doesn't have to do with any dream being punctured. Probably would have been a safer way for the WaPo to go, and a little more attention to the connotations of words is always good. But I don't think any major journalistic offense has been committed here.
Photo from flickr user Jana Mills.