Wednesday, August 06, 2003

America's Most Literate Cities

When you become the chancellor of a public university, my guess is that life isn't a ball of laughs. While the title sounds oh so important, I'd be willing to bet that one's work day is buried largely in the minutia of academic bureaucracy. And it's probably doubly worse if your early training was in journalism. And so John Miller, who got his journalism degree from Ohio University and now serves as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (not that one), apparently decided to do some interesting research as a sidelight.

What he came up with is a ranking of America's most literate cities, which purports to bring some rigor to what might otherwise be a spirited barroom debate. He looked at cities with a quarter million population or more, and ranked them on the basis of the circulation of newspapers and other publications and the number of booksellers, and on the number and quality of their libraries and the educational attainment of their citizens. As I drilled down into his methodology, I had a few quibbles, but only one major one.

So here's what he found: on an overall basis, taking all five factors together, the top 10 were Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, San Fran, Pittsburgh, D.C., Louisville, Portland (OR) and Cincinnati. Cleveland? It comes in at #20, or about four notches below its current ranking in the Census Bureau's listing of the country's largest metro areas. No real surprises here, really. But the most interesting findings, I thought, were when you take a look at the component areas. Cleveland ranks higher in newspapers (#13) and libraries (tied for 12th), the latter of which is no surprise, given our world-class Cleveland Public Library, yet another legacy of our rich early-20th-century robber baron heritage. But, and again no surprise here, it's our abysmal educational rankings (specifically, the percentage of residents that have attained high school diplomas and undergraduate degrees) that sunk us to 20th place. But don't feel too bad: Chicago was way down in 45th place and New York City two slots below that! And that has more to do with my biggest problem with the methodology: it appears to look only at the major city proper and not its larger metro area, which is the only meaningful measuring stick of American cities in the 21st century.

One other observation about this report: you would think that these rankings, which have been extensively reported in other cities throughout the U.S., would have been easy fodder for Cleveland pubs looking for grist for the inevitable benchmarking report story, only this one would be interesting for a change. Alas, no one in Cleveland has yet picked up on it (too few do much web reporting). Instead, our pubs take up valuable pages with such gruesomely illiterate fare as Cleveland Mag's current cover "story," on fashion makeovers for local TV anchors. Egad! The once-proud mag sinks ever further (Sorry, but I can't in good conscience link to it and make it any easier for you to find such stuff).

Another Pekar Review. Meanwhile, reviews of Harvey Pekar's movie continue in the New York media. I recently mentioned one in the Village Voice, and today we have another review, in the New York Observer, the neighborhood paper for the Upper East Side's media elite. And just in case readers might miss one acid sentence up there in the second graf, they ran it as a prominent (enlarged) pull quote: "Mr. Pekar lives in Cleveland, which sounds like a loser's punchline from the outset." Oh, well, I suppose if Harvey Pekar becomes your town's de facto cultural ambassador, you have to be prepared for bad things to happen.


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