Sunday, September 10, 2006

Creative Editing of Letters to The Herald

All newspapers disclaim the fact that they will edit letters for length and it only makes sense that they would correct any typos or grammatical mistakes. The Herald's policy is here. But what if the paper edits out one of the main points of the letter?

Submitted for your examination is the letter I sent The Herald on Sept. 3 about an editorial they published regarding recent census bureau statistics that place Miami as the the 3rd poorest city in the country:

Subject: Miami's Poverty
Date: September 3, 2006 3:41:49 AM EDT

Dear editors,

I would caution the Herald to be more precise in its description of Miami as "third-worst in the nation among major cities in the level of poverty" ("Despite boom, high poverty rate persists", 9/1/2006). While the statistic is true, it only true about the City of Miami, not the county. According to the Census Bureau The City of Miami's population of 386,417 accounts for only 16% of the county's 2.376 million residents. The real news is that Miami-Dade county's most famous municipality (the one with which it share's its name) has become a stepping stone community. The City of Miami has long been a first stop for recent arrivals from Latin America. When Miami residents prosper they tend to move out to the other cities and villages or to unincorporated parts of the county. Certainly The City of Miami's poverty needs to be taken seriously but mischaracterizing the statistics is not constructive.

Henry Louis Gomez
XXXXX SW xxxth Street
Unincorporated Miami-Dade County, FL 331xx
The Herald published my letter on September 8th, but they edited it. Here's the letter as published:
Poor in Miami

The Sept. 1 story Despite boom, high poverty rate persists describes Miami as ''third-worst in the nation among major cities in the level of poverty.'' This is only true about the city of Miami, not Miami-Dade County.

The real news is that the county's most famous municipality has become a stepping-stone community.

Miami long has been the first stop for recent arrivals from Latin America. When Miami residents prosper, they tend to move to other cities and villages or to unincorporated neighborhoods of the county.

Now they can claim that they edited it for length and they can argue that the main point of my letter was preserved. But the main point wasn't about how the City of Miami is a stepping-stone community; it was about how The Herald purposely blurred the distinction between the City's poverty level and that of the county. They used the words "Miami" and "South Florida" interchangeably throughout the editorial and I called them out on that, something Herald readers will never know because they didn't publish that aspect of the letter.

They even edited the city where I live to say "Miami" where I purposely had written "Unincorporated Miami-Dade County" in an effort to emphasize that I don't live in the 3rd poorest city in the country.

The fact is that editorial board at the Herald used the census bureau statistics to advocate specific policy measures such as a higher minimum wage and better education. The merits of the minimum wage and ideas on how best to improve education should be discussed in their own right and not as part of a flawed argument that we live in a "poor" area.

This recent personal encounter with The Herald is not the reason that I decided to create this blog, but is one of the factors that got me to thinking about the paper's influence in our community and that perhaps some ordinary citizens should start scrutinizing the paper a little more closely.

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