Journalists and Numbers Don’t Usually Mix… Right?

The thing that strikes me about database journalism is that, unless you cook your numbers, it may be the most honest “form” of journalism. I’ve always liked looking at numbers. Don’t ask me to do algebra or trigonometry, but I can make sense of them. It’s why the USA TODAY still has some relevance to me (I like the front page charts). That’s why I took some interest in Matt Carroll’s style of journalism.

Carroll is a reporter for the Boston Globe whose billing the past few years has been in working with data. He’s worked with the full range things you could hope to measure; from wrestling with making sense of the increasing number of gun licenses in Massachusetts, to the number of Dunkin Donuts in the state.

Using sites like Many Eyes and everyone’s favorite data organizer, Microsoft Excel, Carroll has taken the USA TODAY style charts and matched it with stories he reports on/writes in conjunction with the data. This is probably the most honest way of handling raw data and charts. Let’s be honest, most people don’t know how to make sense of charts with any type of complexity, not to mention, some data carries with it a great deal of bias and factor unaccounted for.

This is something Carroll touched on inadvertently, as he said that the Globe felt there was a great deal of value in using numbers in stories, but it needed a responsible and new presentation.

Of course, it doesn’t take fabricating numbers to mess up data journalism-esqe stories. Carroll told us all about a time where he messed up “12 A.M.” and “12 P.M.” while reporting on a story about the most frequent time for car accidents.


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