Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I is for Integer Inconsistencies

Inconsistency is one of the troubles when working with numbers. In both lab and lecture we have been learning about how easily stories are printed and they may contain a variable amount of discrepancies.

So what’s up with that? Various reasons could include: laziness, lack of understanding and/or even little time to check. Yet all of these reasons are not excuses for journalists and they need to be honest and accurate with all of their facts and figures. In lecture we discussed how one of the most often errors is a multiple of ten, where 10,000 becomes 100,000 and also when millions become billions and vice versa.

In lab we learned to ALWAYS check the numbers (sorry I am not a fan of all caps, but I needed to make an important point). Numbers can be misleading – as we also learned in lecture. The ketchup vs. salsa debate depended on how the public relations for each spun the data.

I know I used to be someone who saw a chunk of numbers and my eyes glazed over like a Krispy Kreme doughnut. This was also how I felt about all those crazy stock market numbers. It wasn’t until I took business journalism and started dating my fiancĂ© that the numbers all started to make sense.

The Readership Institute at Northwestern University has a delightful article online about the importance of numbers to journalism.

So I guess the old excuse of getting into journalism because one hates math…is no longer valid.

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