Business Journalism: Math Is Hard!

Joel West profile picture
Joel West

As a buyer, I hate price increases as much as the next consumer. As a business professor for the past 17 years, I have tried to develop (and encourage) economic literacy among future employees, entrepreneurs and voters.

Thus, as a parent about to shell out $200 for Disneyland tickets for two teenagers, last weekend, I had decidedly mixed feelings as I read an article in the Washington Post:

How theme parks like Disney World left the middle class behind
Drew Harwell June 12

When Walt Disney World opened in an Orlando swamp in 1971, with its penny arcade and marching-band parade down Main Street U.S.A., admission for an adult cost $3.50, about as much then as three gallons of milk. Disney has raised the gate price for the Magic Kingdom 41 times since, nearly doubling it over the past decade.

This year, a ticket inside the "most magical place on Earth" rocketed past $100 for the first time in history.

Ballooning costs have not slowed the mouse-eared masses flooding into the world's busiest theme park. Disney's main attraction hosted a record 19 million visitors last year, a number nearly as large as the population of New York state.

But looking closer at the article, I found two math errors - both obvious to someone of my generation (but perhaps not a 30-ish graduate of U.Florida's j-school). The net result was an apples and oranges comparison that undercut the core premise of the breathless 1,730-word exposé.

As a former newspaper reporter, I thought I'd follow procedure - by writing to the ombudsman to request a correction. Here is the letter that I sent:

Subject: Inaccurate statistic in Disney story
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 2015 22:03:06 -0700
From: Joel West

Dear Reader Rep,

I am writing to call attention to the

This article was written by

Joel West profile picture
Dr. Joel West is professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Keck Graduate Institute, one of the seven Claremont Colleges in Los Angeles County. He was co-editor of the book Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm (Oxford, 2006). His consulting focuses on IP strategies and business models for software and Internet service companies. Before KGI, he spent nine years as a faculty member at the San Jose State College of Business, was president and co-founder of Palomar Software and also a columnist for MacWEEK. For more information, see Joel’s website ( and the home page for his blogs (

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