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Maybe the reporter should have put in some more hours

The New York Times had a story this week on the effect of the Bush administration's new overtime rules.

Only two problems with the article. The first is that, due to either very sloppy writing and/or editing, or the reporter's lack of understanding, a key statement in the article is wrong:

But Mr. Ware fears that his inventiveness could cost him dearly, because under new federal labor rules it might cause him to be classified as a learned professional, making him ineligible for overtime pay. Since overtime is often one-third of his paycheck, Mr. Ware is fuming about the new rules, which the Bush administration put into effect last week.
In fact, the new rules might allow his employer to not pay him overtime, but they do not, in any way, make him "ineligible for overtime pay." Even if the rules make him exempt, his employer is free to pay him overtime if said employer chooses to do so. And common sense tells us that if his skills are worth that much, his employer will either continue to pay him overtime, or will up his base salary to compensate.

The second problem with the article is that it doesn't say anything. True, the headline -- "Overtime Rules Dispute Is a Numbers Game" -- is, for a change, an accurate representation of the article. But is there really much point in writing an article which has as its theme "People disagree on the effects of these rules, and it's all politics and we don't know the answer"? Are the new rules good or bad? Are they going to cost six million people overtime or just half a million? After reading the article, one is no more informed about the issue than before one read it.

The truth, in fact, may be that the data just isn't there to provide a definitive answer. So what should the Times have said? Well, if it couldn't say what the answer is, it could have at least explained why there's such a wide discrepancy between one set of estimates and another. I've read numerous articles about the subject in the Times, and they've never managed to do that. But it's really not all that complicated, and this article explains better in a few paragraphs what the Times failed to do in several articles: the high estimate comes from counting everyone who potentially loses eligibility, regardless of whether those people actually ever got paid any overtime at all. There, that wasn't so hard, was it? So why couldn't the article say that, instead of throwing around numbers from lots of different people without any attempt to explain anything other than the politics of the issue?


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