Headline – The Richmond Times-Dispatch Needs Help

Courtesy HaHa Humor

by James C. Sherlock

Finally some good news about the dumpster fire that has been the Virginia Unemployment Commission (VEC). Governor Glenn Youngkin has reported definitive progress — real numbers in reductions of backlogs.

Here is the full Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) headline on the story reporting those improvements.

Youngkin claims progress in reducing backlog in unemployment claims; advocates are skeptical.

Not “reports,” but “claims” progress. And “advocates” are skeptical.

Regional newspaper cutbacks have been brutal. In the case of the RTD, I will assume the paper has a live person writing the consistently anti-Youngkin headlines despite the facts of the stories. In this case, the reductions did not go far enough.

Three pieces of good news for the RTD:

  • There are plenty of good journalists looking for work;
  • The VEC can process the incumbent headline writer’s unemployment claim better than before; and,
  • As a budget cutting opportunity, there is headline-generating software available. Some of it is free.

For two years the VEC has demonstrated the nation’s worst performance in processing unemployment claims. The paper’s best reporter, Mike Martz, wrote of definitive progress under the new leadership.

Youngkin said Monday that his administration has reduced a backlog of more than 246,000 unprocessed reports from employers about claims filed by former employees by 89%, or almost 219,000 “employer separation reports,” which help to determine whether people are eligible for unemployment benefits.

The governor also said the agency, under new leadership since his inauguration on Jan. 15, had reduced the backlog in unpaid pending claims — those still in adjudication for eligibility — from almost 25,000 to under 16,000, a reduction of 36%.

Mr. Martz dutifully found skeptics and reported their concerns, even though they offered absolutely no contravening data.

Advocates and legislators say they are unsure what the announcement means.

Unsure what the announcement means? Is it just me, or does the Governor’s statement “mean” precisely what the announced numbers indicate?

Mr. Martz reported that the organizations whose lawsuit against VEC was dismissed in December are “looking for progress.” Losers looking, as a country song had it, “in all the wrong places.” Look at the announcement.

VEC Commissioner Carrie Roth is too smart and experienced to overstate the progress.

“We are not declaring victory,” Roth said in an interview on Monday. “We are declaring we have done a large amount of work in the first month.”

So, excellent news on progress at the VEC. Mr. Martz, as always, did an excellent job of reporting it. His work deserved a better headline.

RTD has been guilty of anti-Youngkin narrative-shaping with headlines since the election. It knows that many readers don’t get past the headline.

Mr. Martz wrote the story in a way that made it clear that he had to check a reporting box in interviewing “advocates and legislators” who proved “unsure” of “what the announcement means” other than that they were skeptical. Mission accomplished. They had nothing.

Neither did the headline writer.