Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dave Berns' Weird Gay Adventure

Let's get this out of the way first: It doesn't bother me that I wasn't quoted in Dave Berns' Vegas Inc cover on the gay marketing of Vegas despite spending a bunch of time essentially providing him with information he used as well as many of his other sources.

Really. I do that to other people all the time, it's part of the process. We interview lots of people, gather information, decide what to include based on all sorts of criteria. No big deal.

No, what bothers me is that Dave Berns is well aware the data he cited about gay travel trends in Vegas are not scientific or reliable and he used them anyway as if it is. Few journalists would rely on a poll on a website as some sort of fact, but he nonetheless used numbers derived in very nearly the same way.

Dave (left) and I discussed this at length, the fact that Community Marketing Inc out of San Francisco polls a self-selected group of gay and lesbian people via the Internet and that the respondents are generally the same urban, tech-savvy people poll after poll. The tell-tale sign ought to be such idiotic CMI conclusions as that Las Vegas is the nation's No. 1 travel destination for middle-aged lesbians. Yeah, right.

CMI uses no random sampling, no effort to be demographically diverse in any way. As Berns was finishing his piece, I forwarded to him the latest CMI "survey" to show him how shoddy their methodology is. He replied with agreement. I also told him to ask Bob Witeck, a well-known GLBT publicist and marketer in Washington, for his views on CMI's data, but Witeck later told me Berns didn't bring up the topic at all.

Instead, Berns wrote these passages anyway:

A 2009 Community Marketing study found that the average household income for gay men and women is $81,500, or about 80 percent higher than the figure for the typical US household. Forty percent of gay men reported household incomes in excess of $100,000 annually. Thirty-six percent of lesbians reported household incomes of more than $100,000.


Las Vegas consistently ranks among the top business and leisure destinations for the 4,296 LGBT travelers surveyed by Community Marketing. New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas typically hold the top three spots, with lesbians between the ages of 18 and 54 choosing Las Vegas as their favorite getaway.

Where's the skepticism about CMI? Where is the explanation to readers of their methodology? It's not there because that would distract from and convolute the story that Berns wanted to tell. There actually is a very good, credible source regarding GLBT average income, and what it shows is that lesbian couples are among the least affluent configurations because on the whole American women make less than men and two women make less than two men or a man and a woman. Lee Badgett of University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who has a Ph.D. in economics from Berkley, even wrote a whole frigging book about it.

But hey, never let bad data get in the way of a good story, right?

It's not the only place Berns lazily cites ridiculous data. This, too, is a joke:

Statisticians and social scientists have long argued that up to 10 percent of the US population is gay. The figure could be much larger.

Uh, no. Actually, the 10 percent figure has long been debunked as a perversion of statistical analysis by pseudo-scientist Alfred Kinsey 70 years ago, as this NPR story from just last month explains. The most recent studies -- say the ones done repeatedly since the mid-1990s when gays finally started to feel OK about even answering such questionnaires -- put the GLBT portion of the general population at about 3.5%. No, Dave, it's not likely to be "much larger." The root of the 10 percent cannard has been disproved for so long that we had seminars at the national convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association a decade ago on why it's important to report these things accurately even if they don't "help the cause."

Finally, this is 2011. Gay people are on TV every day, getting married or marching as active-duty military personnel in pride parades or dancing funky in the aisles of their daytime talk shows. So why, oh why, did Berns feel the need to quote anonymous gay people in a fluffy trend story?

Anonymity, it has evidently been forgotten, is supposed to be a journalist's last resort when he truly cannot get the information or perspective any other way or, perhaps, if he just doesn't have the time to keep beating the bushes for someone who will answer on the record. It's become a cancer on the credibility of the media, another reason the public has consistently downgraded its regard for the information we provide. We owe our readers better, and we owe them a better reason for using anonymity than merely that a person with nothing to lose just didn't want to give their name while providing comments that could be obtained elsewhere.

There was just no need for this. Dave had several folks, myself included, who could have used email and Twitter to get him dozens of gays happy to talk on the record about Vegas. It appears he was so enslaved to his opening anecdote about the gay Blue Moon Resort -- he did go out of the office for that bit, after all! -- that his commenters could only be men lounging at that pool on that day and evidently they played hard-to-get with him. Never mind that a 24-room gay motel doesn't reflect anything about a trend in a city with 150,000 rooms, but that's a whole other thing.

If Berns couldn't find any gay travelers to talk on the record about their views on Vegas in the week or two he worked on this piece, that's intensely sad news for Vegas Inc and a disturbing indication of where a once-outstanding reporter's energy level has sunk. Then again, the editor -- an out gay man who ought to have known how idiotic it is to cite that 10% Kinsey figure -- didn't hold him to much of a standard anyhow, so whatever.


Hector (Vegas) said...

BRUTAL! I love it! Who will say this stuff when you leave??? Aggh! The Dave Berns and Jon Ralstons of the world must be counting the days...

Jeff in OKC said...

There is nothing about your post that I feel is incorrect or overstated. My opinion is that Vegas Inc. is poorly edited by Richard Perez-Feria. In the issue in question, I thought his "Mom, I'm gay" editorial was making himself bigger than the story. Incorrectly giving Richard Abowitz the byline for that editorial in electronic editions was pure incompetence, and failing to take responsibility for the mistake and apologizing to Abowitz (as well as his mother-who read the editorial and called Abowitz at the crack of Las Vegas dawn to chew him out for making such an important pronouncement in the media without telling her first. Even if it wasn't true) was cowardice, arrogance, or elitism. I freely admit this is petty, but i think the oversized head shop that accompanies his column looks more like the dust jacket photo of a " significant author" than a Business Editor.

I don't necessarily think business stories should be written by Joe Friday, but I do think they should be accurate and disclipined, regardless of the authors background or primary beat. (This is regarding Vegas Inc. using Weekly and Sun writers and columnists for some of their features) It might be OK for farm food to be twisted in Las Vegas, but business news never should be.