Melissa Jordan

Joined Jun 2021 0 Following0 Followers
About Melissa Jordan

How? What for? Why? Statistics for data journalists


Why journalists need knowledge of statistics, said Melissa Jordan , Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, Associate Professor, PhD in Sociology.

- Why do journalists need statistics?

- I am convinced that every modern journalist needs at least basic knowledge in the field of statistics, because statistics, numbers in general play a big role in our life. We often believe in numbers more than words. This is easy to demonstrate. For example, when talking about the popularity of dating sites, we can argue that such sites are becoming more commonplace today to find new romantic relationships. And it's hard to disagree with this. But for me personally, this statement does not cause a serious response. It’s another matter if we supplement it with numbers and say that, for example, in the United States, every third resident over 18 is registered on a dating site. Such a statement sounds more convincing to me - and to many other readers. I am sure that the journalists themselves understand this. Recently, as part of a statistics class, students did a small task: they had to find any publication in the media that in one way or another uses statistical data. And the thematic coverage of the publications they found turned out to be unusually wide. The lifestyle during a pandemic, the demand for imported clothing, elections in the United States, the practice of adopting children with disabilities, the effectiveness of mortgage benefits, punishment for pickets - in their stories on these and many other topics, journalists actively referred to statistical (in a broad sense) data. Perhaps this also made their publications so interesting and made students pay attention to them. 

Thus, the involvement of a statistical arsenal can make almost any story more reasoned and memorable. But it is certainly necessary to use this arsenal carefully and skillfully. Turning to the help of statistics, a journalist must understand where the data comes from, whether they can be trusted, what indicators should be used to solve specific problems, how to interpret and present them correctly so as not to deceive the reader. This is exactly what my course is about - not about complex statistical formulas, but about the culture of working with statistical information. It is also worth adding that it may be difficult for a student, a future journalist, to study this subject. Therefore, he can always apply for essay writing help in order to better understand this not the simplest but very important subject. 


- What books can make a journalist a guru of statistics? 

“When I was preparing for this course, I realized pretty quickly that classical textbooks on statistics would not work here. It seems to me that journalists have special tasks and needs in this area. In one article I read while developing the course, I was struck by the following. Its authors argue that most of the mistakes that journalists make when working with statistical information are not mathematical errors in calculations, because they rarely have to use really complex formulas and operations. A more typical reason is an incorrect interpretation of the available data, an insufficiently clear understanding of what exactly is hidden behind a particular number, where it came from, what it says (and what it doesn’t). All the books below are excellent sources of knowledge on the subject. However, mastering all this on your own can be difficult. If you need help understanding the processed material, statisticians can help

Considering this specificity of "journalistic" statistics, I would recommend several books to students and everyone who is interested. The leader of my personal rating - book Sarah Cohen «Numbers in the Newsroom: Solution: Using the Math and in the Statistics News » . It contains all the formulas that will surely come in handy in the work of a journalist, so it can deservedly become a reference book for a person who plans to use numbers in their work. At the same time, the book contains many examples, other useful information, it is interesting to read it. Laconic, yet detailed in important details is absolutely the must .      

I also like the textbook « of The the Data Journalism Handbook » , edited by Jonathan Gray and colleagues. In this book, several chapters are devoted to working with statistical information, but what! In addition to basic explanations, beautiful in their simplicity, the authors share valuable life hacks from their own practice: how to assess the reliability of data, how to choose the numbers that are really worth using, how to integrate them into history and make friends with other types of information, etc. My particular love in this book is the whole list of recommendations on how to access data that is not in the public domain.    

And finally, I cannot but recommend the book "Statistics and Seals" by Vladimir Savelyev , who talentedly and humanly explains even such terrible words as a mathematical model, multivariate analysis of variance, etc. This is a very fascinating book, the author explains all statistical concepts and formulas in it using the example of cats. And as you know, cats make life more pleasant, and statistics - more understandable.