By Malik Singleton, Contributing Editor at City Limits
Want to write better stories? Do the math. It’s a great post on the Online News Association’s site about reasons math skills are more essential in reporting than ever before, especially since readers have ever-increasing access to information and they’ll fact check your credibility to pieces (just recall Dan Rather’s Bush 43 fiasco).
Seems obvious after the fact, since reporting is supposed to stress getting news right over getting it first (just recall the media’s recent premature Joe Paterno death embarrassment, as covered in the New York Times).
So numbers should be every journalist’s trusted weapon, especially we investigative journalists. In his post, Lucas Timmons says:
“Don’t be scared of math. It’s a strong storytelling tool that journalists need to embrace and use to do their jobs better… The lack of basic math literacy can lead to shoddy journalism.”
Timmons points to this 2011 post by Libby Copeland on Slate about misreading and misreporting numbers, “Church Makes You Fat and News Stories Make You Stupid.”
I’m pointing out these perspectives as I prepare to attend Investigative Reporters and Editors & NICAR’s conference dedicated to computer-assisted reporting, happening the last week of February in St. Louis. Yes the name of this concentration is totally outdated and antiquated because it was coined in the forgotten era when reporters used noisy, clunky typewriters — what are those?
Meanwhile we all use computers now, so who are these hermits at this conference who haven’t noticed that we’re all assisted by computers now? Well, they’re still running circles around computer users who mostly copy/paste from Word into a CMS.
Most panels and workshops at these events delve deep into ways to improve your reporting by mastering data and statistics analysis. The topics can get very technical and start to seem geared toward software programmers more than to people who we think of as news reporters, but programming skills, math skills, and data-driven journalism skills are being demanded increasingly by news organizations large and small so it pays to pay attention.
If you’re interested — if not for this year then hopefully for next year — believe me, the CAR conferences definitely have plenty of sessions geared toward total newbies; ripe green novices who feel they have no natural ability whatsoever. That’s how most folks start out and then surprise themselves so don’t dismiss this area too early because, hey, there will be opportunities to do the work that others freak out about or give up on doing.
It’s one thing to master multimedia and social media skills and consider yourself tech savvy, but you will step it up tenfold if you master math and data and news app programming skills. I really hope to start seeing more NABJ and NAHJ folks up in NICAR’s conferences.