Even if you don’t care about football like me, do this exercise: take a piece of scrap paper, and write down the best NFL team of the 2011 season.
How many of you came up with the NY Giants? How many came up with the New England Patriots? How many said the Green Bay Packers? How many said something else? Was the exercise too difficult?
How’d you arrive at what the best team is? <— This is the key to the exercise.
Strictly on win/loss record, The GB Packers would jump out as the best team in the NFL with a 0.938 ratio of wins to losses. But they aren’t going to the Superbowl this year. Neither are the teams that you wrote down as your favorite, unless, that is, your favorite is either the Giants or Patriots. This Sunday, when the NY Giants face the New England Patriots in Indianapolis, we will see who the real best of the NFL is.
I’m being intentionally sarcastic and cagy when I write all of the above. I don’t give a damn who the best team is; football isn’t my thing. But I do take issue with the ambiguity of saying that the outcome of Sunday’s game will determine the best team of the season. That’s why this is now turning into an explanation of why “The Best of” is a poor indicator when used without definition of proper criteria.
You probably recall that I’ve already written about this when I talked about how the WWE’s list of 50 greatest superstars was a load of crap. (A very important read before you read the rest of this)
The Albany Times Union’s “Best of”
This is my shot to provide some constructive criticism. I would hope that my (OTE readers’ choice) reputation as Biggest Capital Region Booster for 2011 would provide some extra weight to my argument. (And I’m not even going to touch the inherent flaws within categories, good luck with that, Daniel.) [derryX comment: This paragraph is loaded with intentional fat jokes.]
Every year, the people of the local newspaper take on the arduous task of seeking out the area’s best finds, and every year, because the poll is ambiguous and doesn’t provide discrete selection criteria, things like Panera and Subway dominate the Best Sandwich category. Other equally unfortunate winners emerge, as well.
One would argue that best is an arbitrary thing and that what’s best for one person is not best for another person. That person would not be incorrect. That is why there are rules and committees that determine the outcomes of things. That’s why sports teams play games officiated by trained officials and referees.
Daniel B., owner of FUSSYlittleBLOG, takes upon himself the burden of trying to fix the poll every year. He tells people what to vote for based on his experiences. It is difficult to agree with such tact, since my experiences differ from his experiences which probably differ from your experiences, but, at the heart of it, he is trying to bring the poll back to its intent. I am sure that Daniel and I may agree on some of the best things, but I am equally sure that we have plenty to disagree about.
When I am asked, “what is the best ____?” I automatically either answer based on quality or ask for clarification. Someone recently asked me, “where can I get the best pizza?” That’s a very broad question. The person lived in Saratoga, so I asked what geographic region they were looking for. Their response was “the Capital Region,” so my response was naturally complicated. Marisa’s makes an incredible Pizza Bianca Mediterraneo. DeFazio’s makes a sick meat lovers pizza. There are great places between Saratoga and those two places; I’m sure I haven’t even eaten pizza from some of the other better ones.
The Times Union calls their survey “Best of 20XX: ___ Annual Survey of reader picks.” I’m not going to say what they’re doing is wrong. Hell, drop “Best of 20XX” in the title, and that would be a great feature that I probably wouldn’t even bother reading. But when you’re trying to get people to come up with the best quality of things in the region, there’s no way that’s truly going to happen with over 15000 ballots unless you clarify that you’re looking for the best quality in the categories, with money not being a consideration. I actually had this conversation with Times Union Interactive Audience Manager, Michael Huber, at the Table Hopping party back in October of 2011, and I think he saw my point, even a little bit.
I’m sure there are people out there that have had great sub sandwiches in either a less than optimal location or at a premium price who thought their experience was outstanding. I would bet money that this person would select Subway as the best sandwich shop based solely on convenience. But if you asked that person, where they’ve had the greatest sub in the area, not considering price or location, they’d have to respond with the great sub.
Frankly, how the newspaper showcases its local scenes doesn’t affect how I live my life. I am going to do what I want to do and try what I want to try, and a printed list isn’t really going to sway me in any way. However, some people depend on the printed word to dictate how they perceive their local area, and this is where the way the outcome has been in the past is unfortunate. It implies that the local places are not worth a shot, so you might as well go to a chain. Honestly, that’s how I would read the outcome of The Best of; Subway comes out on top because the other places in the area aren’t worth a shot. And, in many cases, that is just not true on any level.
On a day to day basis, my hobby of trying local places and buying local ingredients and showcasing them on this blog that a decent number of local people read pays off to me personally because people see something and say, “wow! I should try that.” And that’s really why I love doing it. But my reach is small, at least small in comparison to that of the newspaper.
So my advice to the people of the newspaper is to take some pride in our area. See if there’s some kind of way to bring the poll back to its intent: to highlight the best in our local area.
Back to the exercise: if your scrap paper reads “Green Bay Packers,” you may eat a cookie.