Vanity or Value?
by James Moore
Self-love is often rather arrogant than blind; it does not hide our faults from ourselves, but persuades us that they escape the notice of others.
Charlottesville is a proud city. We promulgate all recognitions and making The Street’s top 10 list is no exception. So, let’s bask in the warmth of our new fame and not worry some nerd may ask questions.
Uh, well . . . Sorry, can’t resist!
A little slow on the pickup, and without citing Newsplex’s scoop two days prior, Charlottesville issued a press release on June 8 accepting accolades from a June 1 article in a publicly traded financial information website. “10 Cities that Embody the American Dream” provides perky travel book vignettes of “livable” and affordable cities with low unemployment rates.
While descriptions of ratios and statistical citations imply a scientific assessment, no statistical techniques, such as weighted sums, are used (understandable since author Jason Notte’s LinkedIn profile lacks any science credentials). Rather, cities are short-listed to 17 by applying only one factor — their unemployment rate from May of 2011.
Is one month adequate? Apply the same criteria to another month, say January, and the results change. Midland (Texas), Honolulu and Charlottesville don’t make the cut. In fact, Charlottesville only qualified during 2 of the past 24 months, so the survey really should read, “10 Cities that Embody the American Dream During May.” Substantial errors continue with the second criteria, “walkability,” but enough said.
Even if this survey was valid, we still have to question why we didn’t qualify for any of the other superlatives written by Mr. Notte, such as “10 Cities Unaffected by a Bad Economy,” “10 Great Cities to Become a Landlord,” or “10 Craft Beer Destinations.” Patricia Kluge didn’t even make the list of “10 Celebrities Who Lost Big Financially.” “Winners” aren’t repeated because this reduces the marketing effect of the exercise–Vanity pieces are written to attract the maximum number of narcissistic visitors.
It’s disappointing that our city’s Communications Department failed to identify this article as another top-ten fluff piece commonly used by thousands of sites to increase advertising revenue (users must load a different page with new ads to discover each winner). Instead, the city compounded the misinformation by dressing up the honor and its conferrer. The city’s press release said the “study considered … quality of life measures … along with a business-friendly environment,” although “business-friendly” wasn’t present in our review. The city refers to “the editors” rather than attributing the lone author, who also works as a “pundit.” Finally, the city returns the favor by copying verbatim, without citation, The Street’s accolades of itself from its own corporate page and presents them as a city endorsement.
This small issue doesn’t warrant a retraction, but retaining this piece on the City’s website is more cheesy than “world-class.”