Interesting article over at the Columbia Journalism Review on the importance of journalists being trained in maths, particularly statistics:
It is still common to hear a journalist woefully mumble, or even gleefully declare, that they’re “not a math person.” Plenty of college journalism programs, including the one in which I teach, don’t require students to take a statistics course. Some young people even gravitate toward journalism because they believe there won’t be any math involved.
Them hounds don’t hunt.
“Journalists need to be data-savvy,” World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee recently argued. “These are the people whose jobs are to interpret what government is doing to the people. So it used to be that you would get stories by chatting to people in bars, and it still might be that you’ll do it that way some times. But now it’s also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyze it and picking out what’s interesting.”
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He’s not talking about journalists stuffing up basic maths in their stories (although that can also be seriously destructive) – he’s talking about journalists’ inability to do meaningful research into primary sources on their own. To find the story without being told about it.
Obviously, the observation has some serious currency here – and it’s not just the fault of the journalists or the journalism courses. It’s also the fault of newsrooms that reward and demand the provision of quantities of content – and content that is about vacuous personality-type scoops, not real substance – rather than more difficult, but more important story-hunting. And it might be the fault of us, who no longer pay for the pap the commercial media serve up, but aren’t paying for real journalism either.
Any ideas for breaking the cycle? I’m all out.
PS I’m glad someone I follow on Twitter retweeted someone else on Twitter who linked to Justin Martin’s observations on the subject so I was alerted to something there’s no particular reason I shouldn’t have discovered myself.