04/02/2008 07:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mariah Carey Surpasses Elvis — But The Context is Missing

The AP runs a story announcing to the world that Mariah Carey has surpassed Elvis for the most sold No. 1 singles on the Billboard Chart, and is now second only to the Beatles in single sales. Big. And statistically correct. But statistics, like everything, should be viewed in context.

Ms. Carey is appropriately humbled. The AP story says Ms. Carey is gratified not only because of her personal success, but what it meant for women and minorities. "That's a completely different era and time. I'm just feeling really happy and grateful," she said.

She certainly is justified feeling grateful but it's less about women and minorities and more about technology and distribution. It was a completely different era. Elvis and the Beatles sold their music in the mostly vinyl 45 & LP era where customers schlepped through city streets and malls to stores called Tower, Rose and Goody. Tower Records doesn't have stores anymore. Rose is gone and Sam Goody has no New York or Chicago location and its only Southern California outlet is in San Diego, California's second largest city.

Ms. Carey's time is the steroidal, digital download era where music is just a 99 cent click away, in-between meetings at the office. Digital downloads have created a tsunamical change in the music business. It's a given that many more record sales will be eclipsed in the download era. Ms. Carey can be proud she is among the first to demonstrate the power of digital sales. But to imply she's in the Elvis and Beatles sales league is like comparing Barry Bonds to Hank Aaron. Billboard might want to accompany Ms. Carey's success with an asterisk.

The AP bears responsibility here. One guess is the Carey PR people were the propellant behind this news story and the AP's Music Writer, Nekesa Mumbi Moody, ran with it without doing what lawyers call due diligence. Reporters are supposed to have well-honed critical thinking skills -- assume nothing, question everything. Where Ms. Mumbi erred is leaving out that all important ingredient in a news story called context. Context is the 'when' part of journalisms road map to Who? What? Why? Where? and WHEN?