Be a fearless math journalist

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.20.02 AMBy David Poulson
It’s almost a cliche that while covering a local election someone in the newsroom yells out, “How do you figure millages?”
Inevitably they are answered with a chorus of “I don’t know. That’s why I chose journalism. I hate math.”
Well…that’s just poor journalism. And contrary to the best interests of your career. And easily fixed.
So fix it now and make yourself a much more powerful journalist. And employable.
Here’s how:

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is teaching a Massive Open Online Class called “Math for Journalists Made Easy: Understanding and Using Numbers and Statistics.”
It runs from June 1 to 28. It’s free.  Details here.
Participants learn:

  • How to do and interpret common calculations and statistics
  • How to identify misleading surveys, research and pitches
  • How to read academic research in a critical way
  • How to recognize deceptive visualizations of statistics
  • How to explain numbers and statistics in ways that are simple to understand and are intuitive to any audience

Among the instructors is Brant Houston, a former math phobe. Houston is a veteran investigative reporter, a former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors and currently holds the Knight Chair of Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois. He is the author of “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide,” and co-author of the fourth edition and fifth edition of “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook.”
Seems like overcoming that math discomfort worked out well for Houston’s career. How about yours?
David Poulson is the senior associate director of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.