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The Private-Sector, Jealousy-Misery Media Factor – Part 1/5

15 Dec

During my full-time university days on the GI Bill [1968 – 1973] before I graduated with a BA in journalism, I learned how easy it was for the media to make mistakes while practicing what is known as Yellow Journalism to boost profits.

And Yellow journalism [based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration] is what Associated Press [AP] did when it ran Public retirement ages come under greater scrutiny by Don Thompson on December 14, 2011.

For example, how would you feel if you read, “Patrick Godwin spends his retirement days running a horse farm east of Sacramento, Calif., with his daughter? His departure from the workaday world [he worked thirty-six years in public education and was the superintendent of one of California’s 1,600 school districts] is likely to be long and relatively free of financial concerns, after he retired last July at age 59 with a pension paying $174,308 a year for the rest of his life.”

That previous quote was in the second paragraph of Thompson’s AP news piece and it is extremely misleading because of what it doesn’t say.

How many in public education do you think will earn that kind of money in retirement?

What AP doesn’t tell us is that in 2010 the average member-only benefit for retired public school educators in California was $4,256 a month before taxes [less than a third of what Godwin earns in retirement] and that only 16% of educators that retired in 2010 worked as long as Patrick Godwin did.  The median years of service was 26.6.

For example, if you were one of the educators that retired after 26.6 years of public service [the median] and was only 55 years old [the earliest you may retire and collect], using the CalSTRS retirement calculator, that person would earn about $2,130 a month before taxes—much less than the $14,525.66 that Godwin earns each month.

I calculated once that if a public school teacher in California taught for 42 years or more, his annual retirement income would equal what he earned the last year he worked.  In public education, less than 4% retire in the 100% category.

In fact, 9% retired in 2010 with 10-15 years of service in public education, 11% with 14-20 years, 15% with 20-25 years, 12% with 25-30 years, 23% with 30-35 years, and 16% with 35-40 years. Source: CalSTRS

The reason that AP’s Don Thompson ran with Patrick Godwin’s retirement income as his example is called sensationalism designed to cause an emotional response so people will talk about it. Word of mouth attracts readers and an audience.

In addition, Godwin was a school district superintendent at the top of the public education pay scale, which represents about 0.2% of the total.  That means 99.8% of public educators in California do not earn as much as Godwin did while working as a school district superintendent.

The result is that many readers may believe that most public educators in California will retire with Patrick Godwin’s annual retirement income.  However, this is far from the truth since most will not come close, but Thompson’s piece doesn’t say that.

The reason AP’s Thompson distorted the facts so much is because of audience share, which determines how much a media source [TV, newspaper, talk show, magazine, Blog, etc] may charge to advertisers, and balancing the news and telling the truth often does not achieve this goal because profits are the foundation of the private sector media.

It’s a simple formula: if you don’t make a profit you go out of business and everyone working for you loses his or her job so almost everyone plays the same Yellow Journalism game, and then there is the politics of money.

To understand why Thompson wrote such a misleading news piece, it helps to understand the trend away from private-sector pensions that were once similar to current public sector-pensions and the answers are in the numbers.

Continued on December 16, 2011 in The Private-Sector, Jealousy-Misery Media Factor – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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