Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Local newspaper: “Ready, fire, aim”

Brunswick’s local newspaper, aka the Ostrich on Other Side, or more cryptically, the NOTWIUN (Newspaper Of The WIllfully UNinformed), has once again demonstrated its razor sharp editorial marksmanship.

A quick read of yesterday’s and today’s edition reveals a glaring lack of basic proofreading effort before committing to print, to the point where one wonders whether they have access to 21st century word processing software to check spelling, grammar, and text structure.  Or even 20th century versions.

But here at the non-profit offices of Other Side, we’re especially taken by yesterday’s piercingly analytical editorial attacking Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield’s ‘unconscionable’ rate hike request.

Citing the always reliable Joe Ditre of Consumers for Affordable Healthcare as their source. the editors parroted his claim that Anthem doesn’t “need any more increases in profits.”

Readers should not interpret what follows as support of or opposition to Anthem’s request; we simply want to point out the failure to count to 10 and conduct due diligence before publishing an editorial.

The proof of these increases in profits, according to the NOTWIUM, is this: ‘in Maine alone,’ Anthem made ‘$75 million in profits in 2007 and $51 million in profits in 2008.’  Wow!

Now we’re willing to believe that in the Ostrich’s parallel universe, calendar years count backwards instead of forwards, so in their minds, the year over year profit figures represent an ‘increase,’ as opposed to the decrease the rest of us might see. 

Journalistic sensitivity and devotion to social justice in such matters is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?   A 32% decrease in profits plus a stroke of the editor’s blue pencil becomes an increase!  Extend this concept, and you have a newspaper whose circulation is up by 20% or more in recent years!

To repeat: this is not about absolutes as they apply to Anthem, it is about the inability of the Ostrich’s editors to get even the most basic assertions right.  One supposes they will blame it on Joe Ditre for not doing a better job writing the editorial, but can’t we expect the local staff to read his work at least once before running it? 

This isn’t the first time they’ve stepped on their own keyboard when running editorials that give every indication of having been written elsewhere.  Maybe it’s time to take a greater interest in what they run, instead of allowing well known ideologues to simply ‘phone it in.’

Is it wrong to expect that the editors could have contacted Ditre in an attempt to live up to a ‘higher standard?’  To borrow a passage, ‘It’s hard to get answers to questions when you don’t ask them.’

‘That clearly was a mistake. It completely undermines their credibility’ as journalists and editors.  (Gee…where have we read THAT line before?)

Now, an “analytical” aside, if you’ll humor us.  Maine has about 1.3 million residents.  We don’t have a solid number on how many of these people Anthem covers, but since they’re pretty much the only private insurer left in the state, and are the company underwriting Dirigo health care, let’s SWAG they insure 30% of the population, or about 400,000 individuals.

Before we turned 65, Anthem ensured the Poppycocks.  In the last year of our coverage, our contribution, plus that of my employer, totalled $18,000, or about $1,500 a month.  That was 3 years ago.

We were, therefore, paying about $750 per person a month 3 years ago, which would be 2007.  Let’s assume that we paid that much because of our age, and that Anthem was collecting about $500 a month, or $6,000 per year, for the average client.

Multiply that by 400,000 people, and you get $2.4 billion a year in total premiums.  If I’ve got my numbers right, a $75 million profit on that premium base would amount to a profit of about 3%.  Do you have any idea how small that is given the risks and the volume involved?  How’d you like to make that on your retirement funds?

Even more startling is what the 2008 figures must represent; assuming the revenues went up considerably, and since the absolute profit in dollars went down from $75 million to $51 million, it looks like the 2008 profit margin could be in the range of 2%.

You’re going to have to work really hard to make us believe that these levels of return are ‘unconscionable,’ especially given the volume and the risks.

But then, to the dedicated collectivist and equality seeker, ALL profits are unconscionable.

It would save us all a lot of time if the Ostrich just came right out and said that is what they believe.  Not to mention confirming 2700 pages or so of suspicions currently being considered by congress.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Poppycock,

    Progress is a curious thing. In spite of advances in communication, there are still folks who put all their faith in newspapers; and that is not necessarily good or bad. What is interesting is that advances in communication have enabled the ultimate in peer review and that is key to understanding the failure of newspapers to connect with the majority of the populace.

    Newspapers are limited in their ability to enable peer review; limited by a rigid geometry of a space time continuum. It really doesn't matter what a newspaper publishes because it is by definition irrelevant even before the papers have come off the presses.

    Of course there are newspapers which have successfully challenged the space time continuum by carefully folding their print side into their internet side and vice versa, but the Ostrich is definitely not one of those newspapers.

    The Ostrich is so sloppy that fifty years from now no one will be able to tell what appeared in the printed edition and what was a "web exclusive". Furthermore, no one will take the time to care because they will have already been written off as irrelevant, and not worthy of consideration as a serious journalistic enterprise.