I am currently working on a story for one of my classes that involves so many numbers and figures and stats that my head spins every time I open our spreadsheets. I don’t think that I am alone in my fear of numbers; most journalism students only take one math class while at Northeastern, and it’s usually algebra.
But numbers are often a huge part of a story, and figuring out how to display them in a way that makes sense to readers can be really important. Enter Matt Carroll: the database journalist for the Boston Globe.
“Database journalism is important and understanding Excel can give you big boost,” said Carroll. You can see his handiwork at Boston.com in the “Mass Facts” page, where he has organized data ranging from gun licenses by town to Dunkin Donuts locations.
Carroll showed us how to do some of this stuff ourselves, using the website “Many Eyes.” This free site is super easy to use and can make graphics of all kinds. It allows you to choose the most effective way to present your data, from word clouds to bar graphs. Carroll matches quality graphics with the stories he writes to present the data in the most honest way possible. I say honest because to the untrained eye, data can be very deceiving and biased.
Another thing that I have recently learned about the number side of journalism that Carroll backed up is it doesn’t take much to completely screw up the data. He told us about this one time where he messed up “A.M.” and “P.M.” which totally mixed up the data for a story about the time of day most car accidents take place.