Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rich Holden: Numeracy Master

Carl Bialik, the Numbers Guy at WSJ.com, has a great column this week on Rich Holden of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and Holden's continuing campaign to improve numeracy among journalists.

A quote from Holden: "An editor's job is to take things that don't make sense and try to make sure that they do," he says. "When readers plunk money down for a newspaper, they're not buying it to have questions raised; they're buying it to have questions answered."

Holden says he's too often greated by "30 blank stares" and attributes the numerical illiteracy among too many journalists as something embedded in the culture:
"Journalists always prided themselves on knowing so little about math." (Specialists in business, economics and sports were notable exceptions.) He also points out that many journalists can sail through college and journalism school without taking a class in math or statistics. Numerical knowledge often gets acquired on the job. "You learn by doing, and learn somewhat from your mistakes," he says. "Hopefully we're kind of spreading the word a little bit by doing this."

Can I get a Halleuljah? And an Amen!

Holden's sessions are always a highlight of the American Copy Editors Society conferences, and he's a great guy to deal with on the Dow Jones copy editing internships.

Bialik does a great job with his column, too. It should be required weekly reading in every newsroom. (I'd go so far as to suggest locking folks out of the computer system till they've read it, just like you have to watch an ad to get into Salon -- but, hey, I'm a bomb thrower when it comes to numeracy.) Read Carl's column and take the quiz. And remember to "give 110 percent."

1 Comments:

At 1/23/06, 1:27 AM, Anonymous Will Atkinson said...

Thankfully, I was a computer science major before journalism so I've been trained in math pretty extensively.
You're right about a flaccid numerical understanding in journalism. I can't tell you how many times I've read a story and smacked my forehead because the writer didn't understand the difference between a margin and a percentage.

 

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