Media rehash ‘Million Myth’ in Caribbean Carnival coverage

Pop Goes The News — There was plenty of sloppy reporting this weekend on Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival.

The festival was described by different outlets as lasting a week, three weeks, and a month. Worse, wildly inaccurate attendance figures were floated around like feathers from revellers’ costumes.

What has become known in Toronto media circles as the “Million Myth” reared its ugly head at a handful of outlets.

CBC News posted a photo online captioned: “An estimated one million people are expected to watch the colourful annual event today.”

At the Toronto SUN, Kevin Connor reported there were “approximately 1 million spectators taking in the pulse of the festivities.”

On parade day, City News reported that “Toronto Caribbean Carnival expects to reach over a million people today alone.” A day earlier, Faiza Amin accurately reported that “hundreds of thousands” of people were gearing up for the parade — and then said the event is “expected to bring in an audience of over 1 million people.”

According to NOW writer Michelle Da Silva, “More than one million people are expected” at the parade.

The Globe and Mail reporter Alex Migdal wrote that the festival “draws more than one million people each year” and referred to “the carnival’s million-plus attendees.”

At Torontoist, Jennifer Joseph described “festivities that gathered millions from different countries.”

CTV News reporter Sean Leathong referred to a woman on the parade route as “one of over a million people expected to visit during the festival.”

(Incredibly, CTV News reporter Kendra Mangione last year claimed Caribbean Carnival is “an event that draws crowds of approximately two million people each year.”)

Called out on Twitter for his repetition of the Million Myth, Leathong responded with a link to his source: A press release from organizers.

Leathong’s defence, though, seems based on a misreading of the press release. “The Grand Parade is the highlight of the three-week Festival and is expected to draw over a million people,” it reads.

(He apparently missed the “three-week” part of the press release, too, because his on-air report described Caribbean Carnival as “the month-long festival.”)

In his report, Sean O’Shea of Global News called it a “week-long” festival. He also said it is “estimated to attract more than a million people.”

None of the journalists who used a variation of the 1 million figure attributed it to organizers of the event.

Indeed, journalists are expected to verify the claims made in a press release — especially one from promoters of an event — or at the very least report that the number came from “organizers.”

At the official website for Caribbean Carnival, the festival boasts it “continues to draw millions from all over the world.”

A million people have never attended a Caribbean Carnival parade  — or any parade in Toronto — and a million people will not have attended the festival over its three-week run.

The Million Myth has been debunked for years (see here and here) but common sense alone should make it clear that there is no accurate method for counting people at non-ticketed events.

Tourism officials note that attendance at festivals is typically calculated in terms of visits, not visitors. Visits are calculated using a formula in which one person is counted as many as 3.2 times.

(Unofficial estimates from various sources range from 150,000 to 200,000 people along the 3.5-kilometre parade route plus 10,000 to 16,000 participants).

Not all media outlets perpetuated the Million Myth this year.

CP24, owned by CTV parent company Bell Media, reported that “thousands” were expected to watch the parade.

Alyshah Hasham of the Toronto Star also avoided using the 1 million number in her report.

At Star sister paper Metro, May Warren properly sourced the attendance figure she used. “Festival organizers,” she wrote, “expect over a million people to attend the event.”

They can expect 10 million. Doesn’t make it true.

Photo via Toronto Caribbean Carnival