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# Mastering math by Ron Nixon

## on Mar 06, 2014

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These slides were part of a session on Mastering Math to Tell Better Stories by Ron Nixon of the New York Times. ...

These slides were part of a session on Mastering Math to Tell Better Stories by Ron Nixon of the New York Times.

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## Mastering math by Ron NixonPresentation Transcript

• Do the Math: A Basic guide for using numbers in stories Adopted from former IRE training Director David Donald with additions by Ron Nixon
• The Truth About Numbers! • Figures don’t lie, but liars figure—Mark Twain.
• Innumeracy • • • • No math required by my j-school. Math ignorance as badge of honor. We’ve got our nerd. My source will give me the numbers we need. • Numbers are hard, solid, cold facts.
• Numeracy • Numbers are a summary of the real world. • Many numbers often are a guess. • Many numbers often are an opinion.
• “Building a Sense of Scale” • Population of City, County, State and Country • Average Household Income • Size of the U.S. Economy • City, County and State Budget
• Numbers v. words • No more than two or three numbers in a paragraph. • No more than one, maybe two, paragraphs in a row with numbers. • Dates, time, spelled-out numbers count. • Memorize common numbers on your beat. Think is this number up or down, big or small.
• Numbers v. words • Round off – and then maybe round off some more. • Learn to convert to simple ratios to keep your numbers small. • Always double-check your math answers. No, better triple-check.
• Use Devices from Everyday Life • “About the size of a football field” • “The equivalent of pouring a teaspoon of water in a lake.” • “Three times as high as …….”
• Numbers v. words • The editor’s question – Does this number make sense? • So … When all the above fails, numbers belong in graphics – bar charts, tables and – at last resort – a bulleted break-out box.
• Graphics • Take your graphic artist or graphic reporter to lunch. • Do your calculations and bar charts in Excel, then export to Adobe Illustrator or Freehand. • Learn some principles of good graphics to have quality conversations with your graphic folks.