JOURN 305 - Reporting with Numbers


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This lecture examines some basic issues that reporters face when dealing with statistics, polls and research.

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JOURN 305 - Reporting with Numbers

  1. 1. By the Numbers Chapter 12 JOURN 305
  2. 2. Numbers Tell the Story <ul><li>“ Borat” opened in only 837 theaters and made $26.4 million </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Less than one-fourth of distribution of the number two film </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Number two picture “Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” opened wider in 3,456 theaters and made only $20 million </li></ul>
  3. 3. Misleading Numbers <ul><li>Be careful in how you report numbers </li></ul><ul><li>They can mislead if taken out of context </li></ul>
  4. 4. Example <ul><li>The “number one movie” for the week ending Feb. 25, 2005 was “Downfall” </li></ul><ul><li>Sounds like a big hit…but it only grossed $18,195 compared to the $31 million earned by Will Smith’s “Hitch” </li></ul><ul><li>So how is the indie arthouse film “Downfall” labeled the “number one” movie? </li></ul>
  5. 5. Example <ul><li>“Downfall” was only playing in one theater but it’s “per theater average” is higher than any other film playing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“Hitch” averaged $8,771 per theater compared to the $18,195 per theater gross netted by “Downfall” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But “Hitch” played in 3,575 theaters compared to the single theater playing “Downfall” </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. The Value of Numbers <ul><li>Journalistic integrity is under fire </li></ul><ul><li>To build credibility, use legitimate statistics that can stand the test of heavy scrutiny </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Use reputable sources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Double check the accuracy </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Guidelines <ul><li>Cite sources for statistics </li></ul><ul><li>Long lists of numbers are difficult for readers to plow through so use a table or graphic, if possible </li></ul><ul><li>Round off large numbers </li></ul><ul><ul><li>$1,489,789 becomes $1.5 million </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Guidelines <ul><li>If you use math to calculate numbers, make sure that you double-check your numbers </li></ul><ul><li>If you get confused by the meaning of numbers, get an expert to help you make sense of it </li></ul>
  9. 9. AP Style Review <ul><li>Spell out numerals at the beginning of a sentence (except for calendar years) </li></ul><ul><li>Spell out numbers from one to nine, except: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Age </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Street addresses with house numbers </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. AP Style Review <ul><li>When writing dollar figures, use the following: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Under a dollar, use cents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Example: 45 cents </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Over a dollar, use the dollar sign </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Example: $1.45 </li></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. AP Style Review <ul><li>If the number is above 999,999, use the words “million,” “billion,” etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Fractions: Spell out numbers less than one </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Example: “one-fifth,” “two-thirds” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Percentages: Use figures </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Example: 1 percent, 2.5 percent </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If less than 1 percent, precede decimal with a zero </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Example: 0.6 percent </li></ul></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Proportion <ul><li>A number may be meaningless without context </li></ul><ul><li>Example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>WSU gets an extra $250 million in funding through a bond…this is huge given the proportion it represents in its total operating budget </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>However, at UCLA this might not be considered as huge a figure since its operating budget is much bigger </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Percentages <ul><li>Percentages help the reader understand the number in the context of the bigger phenomena </li></ul>
  14. 14. Percentages <ul><li>Percentages are frequently used to identify the proportion </li></ul><ul><li>Real examples from a California community college: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>59% of students are female </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>24% are Hispanic </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>70% are daytime students </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>10% carry 15 or more units per semester </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Beware of Misleading Numbers <ul><li>Numbers can be used to build your story credibility – but they can also deceive or only tell part of the story </li></ul><ul><li>Always be aware of the total population from which the percentage was pulled </li></ul>
  16. 16. Percentage Reporting <ul><li>Does use of a percentage truly represent the full picture of the phenomena you are reporting? </li></ul>
  17. 17. Misleading Percentages <ul><li>Example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A claim that a product has 100% success rate in clearing up acne </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If the total population is one person, the claim is basically irrelevant </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Dig Deeper: Questions to Ask <ul><li>Ask for clarification on the definition of the total population </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Get clarification on the parameters of the sample population from which the percentage statistic was taken </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Ask WHEN the data was taken </li></ul><ul><li>Does the percentage represent a total count of the population or an estimate based on sample methodology? </li></ul>
  19. 19. Example of Misleading Numbers <ul><li>Numbers can (and often are) used to manipulate perception </li></ul><ul><li>For example: A recent story reported that the median of player salaries on a football team is $150,000 per season </li></ul><ul><ul><li>BUT this does not tell you the whole story </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Misleading Medians <ul><li>Salaries are: $100,000, $100,000, $150,000, $150,000 , $1 million, $1 million, and $1.5 million </li></ul><ul><li>If you report that the median salary of a NFL team member is $150,000 then you are omitting an important detail – that many players are pulling down seven figure salaries </li></ul>
  21. 21. Consumer Price Index <ul><li>You may need to adjust some numbers for inflation </li></ul><ul><li>Use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a tool that you can use to figure out the adjusted constant dollars </li></ul><ul><li>The information in the CPI comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is available online at </li></ul>
  22. 22. Fiscal vs. Calendar <ul><li>A fiscal year may not be the same as the calendar year </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It shows the organization’s financial status from a set date to a set date </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A calendar year is Jan. 1 – Dec. 31 </li></ul>
  23. 23. Polls <ul><li>It is unlikely that you will be able to question every single person, so a poll is used to get an accurate sample of a larger population </li></ul><ul><li>It is understood that all surveys have a margin of error </li></ul>
  24. 24. Polls <ul><li>When you use poll data, you may need to disclose the following: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The sponsor of the poll </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Exact wording of the questions asked </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Definition of the population sampled </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sample size and/or response rate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sampling error </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Date of the poll </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Methodology </li></ul></ul>
  25. 25. Problems with Polls <ul><li>The sample must be selected in a truly random fashion for it to accurately reflect the wider population </li></ul><ul><li>Beware of polls that claim to measure opinions on sensitive, complex issues </li></ul><ul><li>Many organizations publicize polls because they have a political or social agenda (or product to promote) </li></ul>