Factual, yes. Helpful, no. Confusing, definitely.

Done right, context elevates understanding.

Done wrong, it distorts or confuses.

Place the example above in the confusion pile.

It’s from an AP story about two winners of the $587.5 million Powerball lottery.

The intent of the passage, presumably, was to describe the location of Dearborn, Mo., where the lucky winners live.

I haven’t decided whether the writer was overly familiar with Dearborn and figured that everyone knew where it was, or was clueless about Kansas City and decided that readers needed a reference to a nearby country to locate it.

Either way, it provided no help in finding Dearborn, which I’ve marked on the map below.

As you can see, I-29 does indeed connect Kansas City and the Canadian border. So the description was accurate. Accurate and helpful don’t necessarily go together, though.

I-29 also connects Kansas City and Fargo, Kansas City and Omaha, Kansas City and the Iowa border, Kansas City and St. Joseph, Kansas City and – you get the idea.

Other stories about the lottery winners did provide meaningful context.

NBC described Dearborn as a Kansas City suburb. ABC described it as being 30 miles north of Kansas City. USA Today provided – imagine this – a map.

CNN, on the other hand, didn’t bother to explain the location of Dearborn, other than saying it is in Missouri.

I guess that’s better than saying it is somewhere between Kansas City and Canada, which is helpful only if you expect the lottery winners to skip the country.


Editor for Google Maps

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