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3 Things Journalists Should Ask About Their Data

Have you ever read a news article that cited confusing statistics or some fuzzy math that didn’t seem to make logical sense or add up? Chances are, the math and stats didn’t make sense to the reporter who wrote it either.

Whether it’s quarterly earning statements, census figures or standardized testing results, journalists on all beats can’t avoid data. It’s ubiquitous and, thanks to the Internet, readily available. Unfortunately, “data literacy” isn’t quite as common.

It’s one thing to know technical skills like how to format, filter and sort, and run basic pivot tables or access queries, and it’s another to really understand the data and math itself, let alone why the numbers matter and what they mean.

That’s why I was excited to see this post at Media Helping Media: “Journalists – become data literate in three steps.” The post outlines three questions every journalist should ask before diving into their data:

  1. How was the data collected?
  2. What’s in there to learn?
  3. How reliable is the information?

Go read the post to learn more about why these questions matter most, and specific instances where they can make a very big difference. It’s a piece taken from the Data Journalism Handbook, which is worth checking out in and of itself, though more of a time committment.

Data literacy really boils down to good journalism, and the more you understand the numbers and their source, the more confidently (and correctly) you can report them.

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