WSJ Corrects Trend Story: Fewer 4BR Plus Manhattan Apts, NOT More

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Screen Shot detail from blogger and real estate agent, Sandy Mattingly. According to Mattingly and the Wall Street Journal correction, the Journal incorrectly based a trend story by using the wrong census data.

Sandy Mattingly blogged Dec. 14, criticizing the Wall Street Journal for its recent trend story about “large Manhattan families snubbing the suburbs to remain in Manhattan.”

The WSJ headline and story— “More at Home in 4 Bedrooms: City Developers Add to Supply of Larger Apartments as Demand for Space Grows”–could help real estate developers and influence the market.  But according to Mattingly, the Journal used the wrong statistics to support its housing trend argument.

Mattingly identifies himself as working with the real estate company Corcoran Group.

A “correction” and “amplification” on the Journal story addresses Mattingly’s complaint only in part. StinkyJournalism is writing to Mattingly to see if his complaint was responsible for the WSJ posting a correction and to ask if he found the correction as unsatisfactory and incomplete as StinkyJournalism did.

The WSJ story’s “correction” and “amplification” read:

“According to the U.S. Census’ New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, apartments with four or more bedrooms represented more than 12% of owner-occupied units in New York City in 2008, compared with 12.8% in 2005. This article incorrectly said that apartments with four or more bedrooms accounted for 1% of the owner-occupied units in the city in 2005.”

By simply stating in its “correction” that it used reported 1% instead of 12%, the Journal dodges an admission that there was no trend in evidence and the premise of the entire story was wrong.

According to Mattlingly, the Journal incorrectly compared census data for its story. The Journal failed to stay within the same data set –4BR plus apartments in Manhattan–when comparing 2005 with 2008 numbers. As a result, the entire basis for the Journal’s trend story is wrongly generated from an apples to oranges comparison. Worse, the claim of a trend, when the correct statistics are used, evaporates. In fact, the opposite “trend” is indicated. Fewer — not more– 4-bedroom units are being “owner-occupied.”

The Journal story argued wrongly that more families are staying in Manhattan with multi-bedroom apartments instead of moving to the suburbs. Yet their correction does not reveal that the paper mistakenly used 2005 data, that only reports on four-bedroom-plus Manhattan apartments, to compare with 2008 data that reports on ALL owner-occupied units, which includes 4BR and more houses in all NYC.  In other words, WSJ’s trend conclusion that ownership of 4 bedroom plus apts were increasing, was falsely based on a comparison of a 2005 data about families living in multi-bedroom apartments in Manhattan, with a 2008 data that includes families living in houses in all the boroughs.

The Journal originally reported: “According to the U.S. Census’s New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, apartments with four or more bedrooms represented more than 12% of owner-occupied units in New York City in 2008, up from 1% in 2005.”

But, the correct data states the statistic of 12.8% in 2005 –12% in 2008 means a drop, not an increasing trend of families owning large apts in Manhattan. That crucial mistake, once recognized, reframes the entire story. The theory that four bedroom-plus apartments are a new trend in New York is exposed as wrong.

When the correct data numbers from the studies WSJ cites are compared, there are fewer four bedroom-plus apartments between 2005 and 2008–a loss of 1%–not an increase.

Mattingly added the WSJ story is based on “three sources of anecdotes” outside the data cited.

The Wall Street Journal article uses the following as sources: Louis Phillips Forbes, an executive vice president of Halstead Property, Miller Samuel Inc. Susen de Franca, president of Related Sales, a unit of developer Related Cos., and Gary Barnett, president of Extell Development Co.

A Curbed article, even propagates the yet-to-be-fully-corrected WSJ error, and noted

iMediaEthics is also writing to the Wall Street Journal asking why the correction does not admit the trend claim is false. We will update with any response.

UPDATE: 12/21/2010, 10:06AM EST: We added the word “owner-occupied” to replace of rented/owned.

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WSJ Corrects Trend Story: Fewer 4BR+ Manhattan Apartments, NOT More

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