Numbers, charts, and graphs are all around us. What do they mean? What connections can we make from them? Who will help us understand the things they say? Our resident statistician, that's who! He will attempt to explain the digits that shape your world. This week: The Pinch-O-Meter.
Welcome to Applied Mathematics. I'm your host, Foster Kamer. I'm a full-time college dropout and assistant editor at BlackBook. I failed Algebra 2 in high school and took it twice (To Mr. Simmons and Mr. Caldwell: Don't think I've forgotten you. You'll pay.) which makes me the perfect candidate to be assigned an issue/data set that needs to be analyzed by a numerically-retarded writer. I'll be collecting, computing, and delivering the results here. Disclaimer: I really did take Algebra 2 twice. Statistics are only as reliable as their mouthbreathing alchemist, me.
This Week's Problem: The Secret Voodoo of the Pinch-O-Meter: A reader writes, "Every time the Post runs a story about the troubles of the New York Times it has a graphic with publisher Arthur Sulzberger's busted face which is meant to indicate how close the needle is to 'KO'd.' [It's called the Pinch-O-Meter]. It's my contention that the needle rarely if ever moves, because the people at the Post are lazy or have no real idea. Is there actually any motion? Does it have any effect on the Times stock price?"
Information Hunter-Gathering: My trusty research assistant* and I first perused the New York Post's website for as many Pinch-O-Meter's as we could find. We searched by byline, related articles, and subject matter, which is aside from Excessive Googling. Since the Post has a search engine about as busted as the picture they use of Sulzberger, we only found nine Pinch-O-Meters. The questioner's contention that there are "twenty or so" means he's either an avid reader of the Post or he's getting too senile to do anything but blow numbers wildly out of proportion. [Ed. note: This is Balk, and I asked the question. He's right on both counts.] Anyway, if our research is correct, they used it once in '06, once in '07, and brought it back full force this year when they really decided to lay into the Times.
Analysis: We took the opening and closing stock price from the New York Times (NYT) each day the Pinch-O-Meter ran. We then compared it with the closing stock price of the previous day. To analyze the Pinch-O-Meter, we first took "casual" estimates by eyeballing the nine individual Pinch-O-Meter graphics, assigning each notch a numerical value. We then downloaded a "screen protractor" to get an accurate read on the actual, mathematical degree on each meter.
Trials And Tribulations: We contacted Post reporters with bylines on the Pinch-O-Meter'd stories [Media Ink columnist] Keith Kelly and [Post Finance reporter] Holly Sanders via email for comment, with the following questions: "Do you know who originally came up with the Pinch-O-Meter graphic? Do you know if the Pinch-O-Meter graphic actually correlates with the stories/changes as it's run? Would you use the Pinch-O-Meter less or more if you found out it actually had an impact – however marginal – on the NYT stock price? And if you could, would you, personally, do metaphysical harm to the New York Times' stock price with the Pinch-O-Meter?"
Kelly responded: "I'm afraid I won't be much help–the reporter doesn't usually pick the graphics that go with his or her story." He told me to get in touch with Post Business editor Jay Sherman. Sanders said the same thing: "I'm not involved in art decisions at the Post, so I can't really help you on this one. I forwarded your message to the business editor, Jay Sherman."
Sherman never got back to me (Jay: you're still welcome to!). Sadly, neither reporter answered the question of whether or not they'd inflict metaphysical voodoo-esque harm on the Times. Like, really, though, is there any doubt? Also, I hate protractors, electronic or otherwise. They're strange instruments used for strange things like this and math problems.
Numbers and Shit:
• Pinch-O-Meters Used: 9
• "Calculated" Pinch-O-Meter Scores: 85, 80, 80, 87, 86, 86.5, 80, 87, 88
• NYT Stock Price at first found Pinch-O-Meter: $24.16 (November 7, 2006)
• NYT Stock Price at most recent Pinch-O-Meter: $4.94 (April 22, 2009)
• Significant Loss In Stock Price in conjunction with PO'M: A $0.56 loss with an estimated 86.5 on the PO'M.
• Significant Gain in Stock Price against PO'M: A $0.24 gain with an 80 on the PO'M.
• Most Telling Shift In Stock Price against PO'M: A "No Change" with an 88 on the PO'M.
1. The Pinch-O-Meter does move accordingly with stories. All it takes is a look: the arrow definitely moves. But take a story like "Times Dodges Bullet With Costly HQ Sale" (March 10, 2009), about the Times getting some financial relief: the score's an 80 on the meter, no question. An "80" is the lowest score the Pinch O' Meter's going to get. Visible change: "$1.3B Debt Rattle" (April 22, 2008), which scores an "88" on the meter, on a story about the Times only having "$35M left in the bank." I guess they're waiting to run the full-on KO'd Pinch O' Meter when Sulzberger gets suckerpunched by some editorial assistant (or, you know, when the Times gets a loan collected on/purchased by a Mexican Dude named "Slim," happening any day now).
2. There sadly appears to be no direct, concrete correlation between the Pinch-O-Meter and the stock price of the New York Times. This is good: it means that people controlling media stock values don't read the fucking Post.
3. Though there might be some kind of "voodoo factor" in the Pinch-O-Meter (like that island on "Lost") whose mystical properties have yet to be fully understood by the Godless Denizens of the Post. If we want to stretch for something, totaled over nine Pinch-O-Meters, the NYT stock price did actually drop over the course of the studied meters. Of the nine meters, there was a total $0.05 drop before the market opened after each respective morning's meters came out (meaning: people who read the Post before the markets open, whoever those people are. Bi-Polar bankers?). There was an $0.82 drop from close to close (meaning: people with E-Trade accounts?). If we're being honest with ourselves, though, this just means the Times' stock price is invariably fucked, New York Post or no New York Post.
4. Our findings in graph form!
A banker-type working at a Big Important Banking Place explained to me the following about the Times' stock via IM.
Banker Chick: ha, yeah, i was going to say i definitely take zero action. funny enough, one of our managers was like pounding the table on the ny times. i wouldn't touch that stock.
Me: because you're a Post reader?
Banker Chick: if anything because i'm an Old Gawker reader.
She also explained that this clown was also "pounding the table" on the New York Times stock, citing reasons like inherent worth in TimesSelect and the Times' archives that have yet to blossom into real moneymaking machines (as opposed to going straight to figurative menopause, which is exactly what-as investments- they did). Homie recently hung up his boots and retired from the Bad Media Stock Picking Game.
Lesson Learned: The Post graphics are funny and awesome but mostly serve no purpose other than to entertain (and kind of: inform) Post readers. The Post would definitely pull some voodoo shit on the Times if they knew how. Fuck protractors, of the electronic or tangible stripe. And don't invest in media stocks unless you enjoy the succinct thrill of watching your money go away.
I hereby declare this study signed, certified, sworn for, and closed.
*Nadeska Alexis, a real intern somewhere. Give her a job, New York Media. She might save your stock prices. Doubtful, but worth a shot.
Got math questions that need investigation? Send them here!