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Phillip Blanchard

Phillip Blanchard was in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, most recently as a financial copy editor at the Washington Post. Previously he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers in upstate New York. He founded Testy Copy Editors, the online forum, in 1992. Follow him on Twitter: @testycopyeditor. Or email Phillip at blanp@testycopyeditors.org.


Testy Copy Editor: In summary, part 2

Editor’s note:  This will be Phillip Blanchard’s final regular post for BusinessJournalism.org. A copy editor on the Washington Post Financial desk for 6 1/2 years and founder of an online forum called Testy Copy Editors, Blanchard has written here about best practices for the business press since January 2011.  An archive of his posts will always be here: Testy Business Copy Editor.

 And he will continue to write regularly at Testy Copy Editors We wish him well.


Author’s note:  This is the second and last part of my valedictory. The first part appeared on Dec. 4.


Sensationalism: The business press is more restrained than general news and sports, but still has a tendency to blow things out of proportion. The stock market is not the economy but we persist in giving the impression that it is. Savvy investors — by which I mean professionals, since few individual investors are particularly savvy — know this and often bid shares up and down based not on economics, but rather on how they think other traders will buy and sell. The stock market is not the economyIt’s gambling, pure and simple. That’s not news, but the business press usually acts as though it’s something else. This sort of reporting is unhelpful and should be curtailed. Business reporters and editors need to stop thinking of themselves as part of the grand market, and instead embrace true outsider status. Copy editors can contribute by stopping themselves every time they are inclined to include the word “record” in a headline. Any claim of a “record” should be scrutinized and, if need be, challenged.

Favoritism: We play favorites, with business people, companies and, especially, economic systems. Steve Jobs, of course, was the favorite among favorites, and in many ways still is. But we also lionize people like Henry Blodget, despite legal problems. Blodget’s Business Insider was his way back into the limelight after he was kicked out of the securities business for fraud. Incredibly, he is taken seriously. Same with Michael Milken, who went to prison and also was barred from the securities market for fraud. He now bills himself as “philanthropist, financier, medical research innovator, public health advocate.” The press loves him, perhaps because it’s thought that he’s turned over a new leaf. It’s amusing that Blodget’s Business Insider is a leader in the we-love-Milken club.

There are local favorites, too. Developer Douglas Jemal, who was a special favorite of the Washington Post when I worked there. The Washington Business Journal liked him, too. The idolatry seemingly came to a crashing end when Jeman was indicted in 2005. But, no. He was convicted of fraud the following year, but the Post, noting that he was acquitted of other charges, cast his trial’s result as a victory:

The Post followed up with a feature about how Jamal was recovering from his ordeal. It included a picture of him and his pet parrot. The Post continues its enthusiastic coverage of Jemal projects, omitting of course that he is a convicted fraudster. Editors — even if they admire a developer convicted of fraud — have to put the brakes on when things go south. It’s easier if you spike the fawning features in the first place.

Contradiction: The business press, with its story selection and play, often seems to report one thing and also its opposite without trying to reconcile the contradiction. The best current example is the “economic recovery.” We dutifully report estimates of gross national product and its fluctuations, and declare that “the recovery” is proceeding. Yet we also report that millions of people are underemployed, many service workers need food stamps to supplement their pay, older workers are being forced out of their jobs, unemployment is distressingly high among young people and minorities, and so on. Editors have to allow for the reality that “recovery” means different things to different people. A good start is to report the GDP figures without characterizing them. Go ahead and say the government estimates that the GDP (not “the economy”) rose at a 2.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter and leave it at that (but explain in there somewhere what the GDP is). Since there are several interpretations of the figure, don’t choose one. Another idea, which would require something of a revolution to put into practice, would be to question the definition of “recovery.” The word seems to have outlived its usefulness. It conveys an optimism that may or may not be justified.


Editors who try to follow my advice, of whom there are none that I can tell, are doomed to a life of conflict and second-guessing. Editors who don’t can probably find jobs.


Business 101:

Well, yes. (Los Angeles Times)


Testy Copy Editor: In summary, part 1

Mistakes are inevitable: a wrong number here, a typing error there. The news media are full of them. There was never a realistic hope that they would disappear entirely. But when mistakes multiply, when the same ones are made over and over, the system is broken.

With the Worldwide War on Copy Editing nearing its conclusion and inevitable outcome, it will only get worse. Reports just this side of gibberish are lamented, then ignored, and then accepted. Logo for Phillip Blanchard blog posts

Financial news coverage is especially susceptible to error. Put the decimal point in the wrong place, or miscalculate a simple percentage, and a news report becomes illogical and, often, indecipherable.

The big mistakes in the business press, though, are more profound than isolated errors. The problems are as acute in an analysis of the Federal Open Market Committee minutes as they are in a puff piece about a new store in town: “We’ve always done it that way.” The business pages, always a niche feature, turn readers away with their clubbishness, relentless cheerleading for capitalism, perpetual state of denial and, not least, banality.* This means that a lot of readers aren’t learning things they ought to know.

Exclusivity: As the business sections retreat into the back pages of newspapers and the bowels of general-news websites, the clubhouse metaphor becomes more apt. The stories are rarely more than businesses talking to other businesses. Policy coverage is dedicated to speculating how the government might help businesses make money, not to explaining how it might affect the rabble (By this, I mean the general population, not individuals who might reap riches or lose everything. The human side of finance is rarely portrayed as anything other than one person’s road to prosperity or ruin. Individual “business leaders” — store owners and investment bankers alike — are profiled as exemplars of American values. Mistakes happenBroad trends are obscured by local accounts of how Main Street reacts to general economic triumph or turmoil. Apple introduces a new iPad? Talk to people lined up to buy it, all of whom know what they are expected to say and do not disappoint. Get a picture (with an iPhone, of course, not a camera handled by a professional photographer). Unemployment drops by a tenth of a percentage point? Talk to the local fast-food franchisee, who hired a new grillmeister, even though it has no relevance to the jobs report, which, in any case, is likely to be revised a few weeks later. Leave the big picture to the wires.

Reaction: The business press acts as one when a story breaks, regardless of whether it’s a real story or not. For example, this has been a record-setting year for the stock market by some measures. But the “records” don’t look so impressive when the various indexes are adjusted for inflation, which they almost never are. And, of course, the companies listed in the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index change periodically, so they compare different companies over time. This is elementary, and I’ve mentioned this before. Black Friday Target Nobody listened. For local media, we’ve just been subjected to the annual orgy of Christmas-shopping stories, which are pretty much the same every year. “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday” and “Cyber Monday” have no angles left unexplored, yet hundreds of newspapers have assigned precious resources to interview people in line to buy cheap TV sets and toys. If our eyes glaze over — and they should — imagine being a reader. Another kind of reaction pops up in nearly every story: the opinions of “analysts,” who usually are stockbrokers or investment advisers with vested interests. Their comments are almost universally useless, yet the same ones are called over and over to muse on the day’s events even when “analysis” is either obvious or irrelevant, or both.

*The same could be said for political coverage, but that’s too easy a target.


NEXT: Sensationalism, favoritism, and contradiction.

Clever, no?




No. (The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.)


Controversy, yes. Hostility, no

Ms. Yellen will face hostile questioning from Republican senators who oppose the Fed’s policy of quantitative easing. (Financial Times, Nov. 13)

Many analysts had predicted a rough hearing for Ms. Yellen, given the antipathy of congressional Republicans toward the Obama administration, the poor state of the economy and the controversies around quantitative easing – as well as usual Capitol Hill skepticism about the Fed. But she faced generally genial questioning, and failed to make news – a good thing for a Fed chief. (New York Times, Nov. 14)

Janet Yellen smooth sailing CNNMoney

CNNMoney’s Annalyn Kurtz wrote about how Janet Yellen breezed through questions from the Senate Banking Committee.

You could be forgiven on Nov. 13 for thinking that Janet Yellen, the nominee for chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, was going under the hot light the next day at her confirmation hearing. “Analysts” figured that senators, especially Republican senators, would be merciless in their attacks, and that Yellen would leave the hearing room bruised and bloody.

Surprise! That’s not what happened. Although Yellen was challenged on her support for “qualitative easing,” it was not the bloodbath that so many predicted. It was quite civil, and at no time was there even a hint that she would be denied confirmation.

It’s another example of what The Bloomberg Way calls its fifth “F” of news writing: “Future word.” It turns out to be wrong often enough to render it useless. That it wasn’t Lawrence Summers sitting at the table instead of Yellen should knock some sense into the financial press.

Avoid the “future word.”  The Bloomberg Way needs a sixth “F.”


Michelle Quinn, the new business columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, writes her first column and argues that the tech companies in Silicon Valley need to talk to the media more. (Talking Biz News)

Whine, whine, whine. No, Michelle Quinn, tech companies do not “need” to talk to the media more. Reporters need to talk to tech companies more, and I don’t mean their PR people. It’s called developing sources, and it’s not easy. Some companies are especially tough to crack. Apple is the best example of corporate reticence, and you can’t argue that it hasn’t paid off. Seemingly no one at Apple talks about products in the pipeline, and the reward is fawning coverage that amounts to free advertising.

Get out and talk to people. Don’t wait for them to talk to you.


Dangerous? Michelle doesn’t care. (Photo by Stephan Mosel via Wikimedia Commons)

This article also said raw white mushrooms contained suspected carcinogens and that eating raw alfalfa sprouts frequently could contribute to inflammatory arthritis or lupus.

Are any of those statements scientifically sound? I have no idea, and, though I like many of those vegetables cooked, I won’t stop eating them raw, either. (Amelia Freidline in The Packer)

Freidline writes for a trade publications, but that’s no excuse. The headline on her story, “Misinformation abounds in Internet age,” is accurate. It would be nice if writers like Freidline wouldn’t add to the problem.

She is, of course, free to pick the toadstools in her back yard and eat them, but if she has “no idea” whether raw white mushrooms contain “suspected carcinogens,” she damn well ought to find out. (It took me two minutes to learn from a reputable source that raw mushrooms can be bad for you. If I had another five minutes, I could probably find out whether they might cause cancer, but that’s Freidline’s job, not mine.


Everything a “brand” does is to “boost profit.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette might as well have left the headline space blank. (Also, the product shot might as well have been an ad.)


EBITDA? Eh. Oh, and we get to the bottom of bitcoins

We might take a number like profit margin and look at maybe 100 different variables to figure out which one explains profitability the best, so I can take action on that. But it’s a hard thing to do; you have to know what’s signal and what’s noise. (Rusty Frioux of DataClear in the Greater Baton Rouge (La.) Business Report)

You know what? There’s no mystery in how to explain profitability. It’s all right there in a company’s financial report. It’s embarrassingly simple.

“For the purpose of the daily news,
EBITDA is worthless. Basically,
it’s a way to make things
look better than they are.”

You take how much the company took in, and subtract what it spent. The number left over is profit (or loss). It’s called “net income” in the reports, but “profit” is the word you’re looking for.*

One “metric” often used is EBITDA, which stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. The money people employ this figure to compare one business with another, among other mysterious purposes. For the purpose of the daily news report, though, it’s worthless. Basically, it’s a way to make things look better than they are.

You can’t blame companies for using EBITDA, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it. The financial reports of a company that consistently highlights EBITDA bear close examination, because it just might indicate that things are not quite as good as they seem. EBITDA is “noise” that Frioux presumably wants to eliminate.

Bitcoin guy

Zack Bornstein, of Garlic Jackson Comedy, explains Bitcoins .. sort of.

The useful Investopedia says: “EBITDA is often used as an accounting gimmick to dress up a company’s earnings. When using this metric, it’s key that investors also focus on other performance measures to make sure the company is not trying to hide something with EBITDA.”

Here’s how Methanex Corp. started its recent press release accompanying its third-quarter financial report: “Methanex Corporation reported Adjusted EBITDA of $184 million and Adjusted net income of $117 million ….”

You have to go pretty deep into the report to learn how much money the company made in the quarter ($101 million.)

All this is just an extension of “say what you mean.” Keep it simple, even if “simple” is brutal.

(You can’t argue with money people about EBITDA. They’ll just say you don’t understand it.)

*Back in olden days, it was Washington Post policy to use the word “profit” instead of “net income.” It was a good policy in that it made the numbers clearer to those readers who don’t regularly read financial reports. That policy has been rescinded, is ignored or is overlooked in the “editing process.”

With all the talk of a “grand bargain” on the federal budget, headline writers are dragging out a reliable tool — “Let’s Make a Deal.” Not that it ever disappeared, but we’re seeing more of it lately. Life is not a TV game show. Stop it.


Thought that was clever, eh, Ledger of Lakeland, Fla.? Wrong.

This is where I usually put something about Bitcoin. This week is no exception, but it’s time for a little levity.


Want an interview? Send me an email

E-mail has made the news, news stories, and newspapers dull. (Patrick B. Pexton)Testy Business Copy Editor Phillip Blanchard

Pexton, a former Washington Post ombudsman,doesn’t like email interviews.

Man in a Polar Bear suit being interviewed

Some interviews just have to be done in person. Photo: Tavis Ford

“E-mail is a rotten reporting tool for journalists, particularly here in Washington. Every elected and appointed official is so worried that they might go off message, they don’t do in-person or telephone interviews anymore,” Pexton writes.

You see a lot of that in business reporting, too, for the same reason. Business executives and PR people  want to make sure they don’t accidentally say something truthful and embarrassing.

Pexton has a point. A lot of the responses reporters get in an email is marketing gobbledygook. “We see especially robust internal development activity focused on tablet applications and business transformation” isn’t going to help you or your readers.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with numbers and such, it’s good to have hard copy to back you up: “$14.5 million was the net amount (the cost basis) that the University had invested in a particular fund that was subsequently invested with Mr. Madoff.  The larger number [$110 million] represented the inflated, fictitious value just before the collapse of the scheme.”

That quote might have been better if it were paraphrased. Just as it is with face-to-face interviews, you don’t have to run quotations just because someone says something. Pick and choose what you quote verbatim. If you can say it better yourself, do it.

I like email interviews, partly because they ensure that you get the quotations right and partly because I gave up reporting 30 years ago because I don’t like to talk on the phone. You can also get a lot more done by using email (judiciously, of course), while not forgetting that you must meet your sources in person from time to time so they can match a face to your emails.


A brand new 2014 Tesla Model S recently burst into flames in Seattle thus becoming the first Model S to face such a devastating fate. … While no one was physically injured in the blaze, it did cause a widespread panic with Tesla’s shares plunging on Wall Street. (GTSpirit.com)

Widespread panic is nothing to sneeze at. Widespread panic is what we had in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. The stock-market crash of 1929 absolutely caused widespread panic of a different sort. A car fire doesn’t spark widespread panic. Tesla’s share price didn’t even reflect a narrow panic after the Oct. 1 fire.



Part of the problem, [David Leonhardt] said, is that “the human mind isn’t equipped” to deal with very large numbers. When people see these numbers, he said, they read it as “a lot of money” or “a really big number.” (New York Times)

Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times “public editor,” has joined the big-numbers bandwagon. She endorses the idea, suggested by a reader, of expressing federal budget items as percentages of the total budget.

Leonhardt, the Times Washington bureau chief, says reporters have been reminded to do that.

We’ll see.


The Bitcoin is a “virtual currency” that has gained a small following around the world as a substitute for national currencies such as the dollar. Test your knowledge of this form of cash. (Los Angeles Times)

The Bitcoin mystery continues. The nut graf continues to elude us (the definition above serves only to confuse, not explain).

You can score 90% on this L.A. Times “quiz” (as I did) and still be unable to tell someone what Bitcoin is in a couple of sentences. The quiz is a trivia test, nothing more.



Arrows, dots and boxes: Not by the numbers

Silicon Valley Business Journal redesign

Click on the image for more about the ACBJ redesigns.

I’m a word man, but there was a time I laid out a lot of pages. That’s one of the things copy editors did. It didn’t take much time, which left plenty of time for important things, like editing and headline writing.

When layout became “design,” it took a lot longer to pepper the pages with logos, charts and various dots and arrows. For those copy editors unlucky enough to have page-design responsibility, there was less time for their critical work, leading to more errors.

It’s out-of-title work for me to write about design, so I’ll keep it brief.


Testy Business Copy Editor Phillip BlanchardThe Denver Business Journal is the latest American City Business Journals paper to redesign.

A story on its website states, “Our theme color is now emerald, and our nameplate design is more contemporary. (Talking Biz News)

Is it news when a publication changes its design? No, especially when the new look is nothing special. (Obviously this doesn’t apply to sites devoted to design, like Charles Apple’s.)

The new nameplate.

But if it were news, it doesn’t help to report the “story” by copying empty language from the publication making the changes.  “Our theme color is now emerald”? It’s true enough that the logo is green. So are the little headings over the stories.  Startling! “Our nameplate design is more contemporary”? Come on. Is it better than the old one?  It’s a coin flip.

The old nameplate.

Check out pages 28 and 29 of the Oct. 4-10 edition. Yes, it’s a two-page spread explaining the new design. If you have to explain a design, there’s something wrong with it. Looking over the entire issue, I found nothing that required explanation.

To business publications and newspapers: Get over yourself. No one cares about your design, except for the people who complain that they liked it the old way — and they’ll get over it.


Is there anything, other than a Q&A, worse than a “by the numbers” graphic? Maybe, but I haven’t seen it.

As far as I can tell, the “By the Numbers” cliché originated decades ago with the Harper’s Index. At its inception, the Index was a clever idea, but has long since outlived its attraction, and its usefulness.

“By the numbers” popped up early on sports pages, moved to the business pages, and then to just about any topic. The heading seeks to unify a collection of often-random figures. “By the numbers” boxes are a tremendous space-killer and serve mostly as fillers where real art is difficult or impossible to obtain.

The mere words “by the numbers” are a signal to the reader to move on. It doesn’t help that so many of these things are jumbled messes apparenty “designed” to make them difficult to read. See the Davos 2012 “by the numbers,” from Reuters, right.  The “Numb3rs” is especially annoying and unoriginal. (To subject you to an illustration big enough for you to actually read would require more space than I’m willing to give. You’re not missing anything.)

The next time your art department serves up a “by the numbers,” send it back with a request to come up with something interesting and useful.



Too simple is just bad journalism

The story was difficult to illustrate. So on its website, the Times ran a picture of $20 bills, because readers might have forgotten what money looks like.

Rather than award employees bonuses, either as individuals or in teams, employers who give money to their workers to spend on charities or on their colleagues get better results, the researchers reported this week in the journal PLOS One. (Los Angeles Times)

A study led by a Duke University researcher reports on three experiments in what the authors call “prosocial bonuses.” The experiments measured different things under different conditions. The Los Angeles Times story summarized the results in the lede: “Some researchers say there’s a cheap and effective way to boost happiness and productivity.”

The study report, at about 6,000 words (plus references), clearly explains the experiments and the conditions under which they were conducted. The Times story, at 304 words, took shortcuts and made generalizations beyond what the experiments showed.

For one thing, only two of the three experiments involved “employees” and “employers.” The first measured, roughly, “job satisfaction” after bank workers in Australia were given small sums to give to charities of their choice. The second measured sales by teams working for a drug company in Belgium, some of whom received $22 to spend on themselves and as a bonus and others $22 to spend on teammates. Sales improved among sales teams whose members bought stuff for colleagues. (The third experiment was conducted with “recreational dodge ball” players in Canada and did not involve a “bonus” at all.)

Bonuses as social capitalNeither study of employees gave the participants a choice between cash bonuses and “prosocial bonuses.” (The amounts involved were so small, they could better be described as bad tips rather than bonuses, but that’s another matter.)

It took me 111 words to summarize the experiments, and I admit freely that the summary is oversimplified, insufficient for a news story. That’s more than a third the words the Times reporter had to work with. No wonder the telling details of the studies were left out of her story.

The problem is with the top of the story is that by making an honest attempt to get everything in the lede, the writer over-conflates. Sometimes you can’t say it all in one sentence.


When you’re assigning stories about academic studies, give the writer a break and give her 1,000 words. If you don’t have the space in the print edition, don’t do the story for print. You have all the room in the world on the Web, so do it there.

Provide links to the original studies. Not many readers will follow them, but those so inclined will be appreciative. (Alas, most studies cost money to read in full; usually, only abstracts are available free. The “prosocial bonuses” study is an exception.)


They are not decking the halls on Wall Street for the coming Christmas shopping season. (Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News)

First sighting of a holiday shopping story, complete with a clichéd lede and a prohibited “Blue Christmas” headline.

I suppose it’s too much to ask that we forgo the prediction stories, but there’s no reason to go out of our way to make them stupider than they already are.

The new Testy Copy Editors site is live. We’ve pretty much started from scratch. All are invited to visit, register and participate.


Local business sections suck. There. I said it.

Chardon area residents soon will wake up to the smell of coffee perking at a new Bob Evans. (News-Herald [Ohio])

Longmont transportation planner Phil Greenwald said the focus appeared to be on more concrete projects. (Longmont [Colo.] Times-Call)


I recently picked up some work that requires me to at least glance at a lot of business-related copy from local newspapers around the country.

local business sections suckI knew it was bad, but not that bad.

I haven’t been in all the Bob Evans restaurants, but the ones I have visited made drip coffee.

Planner Greenwald probably didn’t want to imply that the focus was on concrete to the exclusion of other building materials.

The Worldwide War on Copy Editing seems to have hit small newspapers especially hard. Community papers, as they’re often called, have never been particularly noted for meticulous editing, but it looks like no editing at all is being done in many places.

It takes as much work to edit a story for a tiny newspaper as it does to work a story for the Washington Post. (The Post is doing less of this work than it used to, but that’s another story.) Small newspapers have less money than big ones. But that does not relieve them of editing responsibility.

Testy Business Copy Editor Phillip BlanchardFar too many local business sections cover practically nothing but announcements from local employers, store openings, flattering features about local businesses, appointments (about which no one but the appointees really care), maybe the eminently editable but rarely edited AP market stories and other wire stories slammed into spaces, apparently without being read first. This is a tremendous disservice to readers, and overall gives business journalism a bad name.

There are resources available to small newspapers like never before. There are thousands of highly experienced editors out there who might like to return to newsrooms after being put out to pasture. They might be willing to work for less, since many of them have pensions or other supplemental income.

These small newspapers can also afford to be pickier when hiring less experienced people. They should make it known that they demand highly skilled and very teachable editors. By combining the best of the talent pool (those available after the Posts and the Timeses of the world suck away the cream) with experienced hands at the helm, and they can get competent editing staffs for bargain prices. I’m not advocating low pay for editors, but let’s face it: It’s a buyers’ market.


Durable goods orders increased 3.6 percent as demand for goods ranging from aircraft to machinery rose, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday. Orders for these goods, which range from toasters to aircraft, had increased by a revised 3.6 percent in April. (Reuters)

The Advance Report on Durable Goods is a special favorite here because it includes such disparate products as Boeing 777s and microwave ovens. News stories about the report generally explain that disparity, usually with a false range (“aircraft to machinery,” “toasters to aircraft”). Even the Commerce Department, which issues the report, gets into the false-range act: “from computers and furniture to autos and defense aircraft.”

This nonsense is unnecessary. The department, in its description of the report, makes it clear that it covers products “with an expected life of at least three years.” That description belongs in every story about durable goods and is usually enough, but is often missing. Use it. If you want to get specific, go ahead and include the numbers on Bradley Fighting Vehicles or Frigidaires. Just make it clear what you’re reporting.


Be wary of big numbers, especially nice round ones

graphic numerals 1-8I last wrote about big numbers in December 2011. It’s time for a refresher.

The New York Times Magazine ran a praiseworthy piece this month headlined “The Half-Trillion-Dollar Depression” and written by the Times economics reporter Catherine Rampell, whom I respect and admire. The story describes the enormous costs to the nation of mental illness and its treatment. It concludes: “If we want to realize the long-term economic and social benefits that come from helping people burdened by mental illness, we may have to endure some short-term economic pain.”

The headline gets your attention and tells you what the story is about, sort of (there is a lot of mental illness out there that isn’t depression).

Half a trillion dollars is nothing to sneeze at. Even by the otherworldly standards of the federal budget, it’s a lot of money. It’s also a seemingly precise number. How did Rampell come up with it?

The story says upfront that the U.S. spends “about $150 billion a year on the “direct medical costs” of treating the mentally ill. No source is given for that figure.

$350 billion to go.

Next, there’s the $193 billion in earnings lost to people with “serious mental illness,” because they “earn on average, $16,000 (a year, presumably) less than their “mentally well” counterparts. (We might argue that not being mentally ill doesn’t necessarily make you “mentally well,” but we won’t.) This figure is attributed to a “2008 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, which for the purposes of the article is probably sufficient. (A link to the journal article, or at least an abstract, would have been nice.)

$157 billion to go.

“Because the mentally ill are at higher risk of poverty than their peers,” they get things like “food stamps” and “subsidized housing.”** That’s worth $140 billion to $160 billion in public money, “according to one recent estimate.” By whom? Who knows?

None of this is really Rampell’s fault. I’m sure she could have provided the sources if an editor had thought to ask.

The lesson, of course, is to continue to be wary of big numbers, especially nice round ones like half a trillion.

I’ve asked Rampell where she got the unsourced numbers, and if she ever gets back to me, I’ll report it.

*Half a trillion dollars, in packets of 100 $100-bills each, would cover 1.1 acre, stacked like this person describes. He or she does mention football fields, which is the sort of thing we want to avoid, but includes a nice drawing of what lots of $100 bills might look like. I couldn’t find an estimate of how many times 500 billion $100  bills, end to end, would circumnavigate Mars, and I don’t feel like making such a ridiculous calculation.

** Who are their peers if not other mentally ill people? Is this an attempt to avoid using “counterparts” twice in the story?

It’s early, but let’s go ahead and give the prize for the worst headline of the month to Forbes.

Because of a seizure or minor stroke, the June 8 post here botched the name of a city in Tennessee.  It’s Murfreesboro, not Murpheesboro. The mistake is common, but that’s no excuse.