Math Tools for Journalists

A summary of chapters 1 through 4 in Kathleen Woodruff Wickham’s “Math Tools for Journalists” (Second Edition)

By Carolyn VanBrocklin

Journalists have to understand numbers. This can sometimes seem like an impossible feat since our brains are wired to understand language rather than numbers, but that is no excuse. Journalism today is driven by numbers, especially in industries such as business and economics where numbers are key.

There are a couple of basic style and writing tips that come along with math and journalism. For instance, numbers 1 to 9 are written using numerals; numbers ten and beyond are spelled out until you get to terms like 1 million or more.

Journalistic writing often has to deal with percentages. Percentage increase and decrease can be helpful for calculating changes in salary, donations, etc. The percentage of a whole helps put large numbers into perspective for readers.

Mean, median and mode: the bane of elementary school math. As a refresher, the mean is the sum of all figures in a group divided by the total number of figures. The median is the middle figure in a group and the mode is the figure that appears most frequently.

There is an appropriate time to use each of these numbers. Mode can be used, for example, when there is a group of figures representing salaries. Each employee receives the same amount except for one who receives a much higher amount. In this case, the average would throw the numbers off, so the mode is an acceptable representation of how much these employees are paid.

If there is a wide range of figures, then the mean would be appropriate. If there is a range of figures but one figure much higher than the other, then the median would accurately represent the salaries of the employees.

When doing investigative reporting, journalists need to look at Federal statistics. Particularly with the current economic status, unemployment rates are in need of consideration. Unemployment is defined as the number of people who are not working but are actively seeking work. The formula for unemployment is: unemployment rate = (unemployed labor / labor force) x 100. However, since it does not take into consideration the unemployed who are not seeking work, journalists must try and figure out how those people change the unemployment rate. Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics for more information.

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One Response

  1. You didn’t finish with the problems. You are supposed to supply the answers with each one as well. I hope you will get in there and finish this off well.

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