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List ranking Hagerstown as one of worst cities for having a baby is deemed "Facebook bait"

Local leaders, digital journalism expert agree it was flawed and should not be taken seriously

August 28, 2013|BY KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
  • Downtown Hagerstown is shown in a recent Herald-Mail photo. A list on a news and opinion website that ranked Hagerstown among the 15 worst cities to have a baby is rankling local leaders, who called the survey flawed and meaningless.
Herald-Mail file photo

A list on a news and opinion website that ranked Hagerstown among the 15 worst cities to have a baby is rankling local leaders, who called the survey flawed and meaningless.

They aren’t alone.

Sean Mussenden, a lecturer at the University of Maryland at College Park who is an expert on digital journalism, said such surveys are “Facebook bait.”

The Daily Beast featured the list titled “The 15 worst cities to have a baby, from New York to Miami,” with Hagerstown ranked fourth on the list.

“They use five measly metrics,” said Hagerstown Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, who said that the survey should not be taken seriously.

The list factored in cost projection for a baby’s first year from another website called the Redfin Blog and used that against the median household wage of an area to figure out what percentage of that income would be used on a baby, according to the website.

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The four other factors that the survey looked at were figures from the American Medical Association on the number of obstetricians and gynecologists in an area; the percentage of the population that is 5 years old or younger according to the U.S. Census; the number of playgrounds per 10,000 residents; and the average commute time for parents.

In the case of the Hagerstown, no figures were available for the number of playgrounds, according to the website.

“I think that is 20 percent of their survey ... there is no logic or credibility to this list,” Aleshire said.

He pointed out that the survey used the Metropolitan Statistical Area for its geographical boundaries, which for Hagerstown, includes Martinsburg, W.Va., and other areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.

“So does this mean that this list includes Martinsburg and other areas of the county such as Funkstown?” Aleshire asked.

An email and a phone message to the offices of the Daily Beast in New York City were not returned Wednesday.

“Why people like these lists is not entirely clear, but they are very popular,” said Mussenden, who said they can generate a lot of traffic for websites.

Such lists make clear promises of what to expect, and are easily digestible, he said.

“This is Facebook bait. A 2000-word story on the same issue might not generate the same buzz or traffic,” he said.

The list was “essentially opinion, based on thin metrics,” he said.

“As far as getting people to click on a website, these lists are brilliant ... in terms of the quality of journalism, it is not so good,” he said. “But these lists are not going away. They are easy to produce.”

Hagerstown Councilman Lewis Metzner said the list seemed to be a way “of getting publicity for the website.”

“I think these lists are made for social media,” Metzner said. “Anybody who is informed, and looks at the list will know what’s going on.”

Justin Hartings, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said the list looked at a very narrow set of criteria.

“The results depend on what you measure,” Hartings said. “If they looked at the school system or even the parks in the county, the results would have been a lot different.”

He said the presence of Chicago and Boston on the list also made him question its credibility.

“Those are wonderful places ... and leads me to question the validity of the list,” Hartings said.

The Daily Beast website was founded by Tina Brown, a former editor of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines.

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