Friday, 15 July 2011

When journalism doesn't add up: reporters, subs and numeracy

Fleet Street Blues' post One on four Mail Online subs can't count highlights another example of subs and writers failing to grasp basic maths.

The problem is that many journalists, me included, aren't too comfortable with figures. Some of us still tend towards the 'I'm a words person, not a numbers person' school of thought, as Press Gazette has reported.

But that shouldn't prevent us checking rates of increase and decrease in survey type stories. We should know how to check and calculate percentages and how they differ from percentage points, for example. I heard Kevin Anderson explain these terms recently and it isn't that difficult after all.

It's worth going back to an old, but still relevant, set of tips from Steve Harrison on How to get to grips with numbers, part one and part two.

There are, of course, plenty of stories potentially buried in stats.  And it's no longer just down to the financial writers to find them, as the rise of data journalism has demonstrated. After all, the MPs' expenses story came from asking about numbers.

I remember doing subbing and writing tests at job interviews, but I don't recall any basic numeracy tests. How about a few more numbers tests for journalists - at all levels?


  1. hi David. I've created another percentage calculator ( ). It does a lot of neat stuff that other calculators don't do (for example it fills in different related formulas as the user types in his numbers). I hope you'll like it enough to mention in on your blog :)

    1. Thanks for this Mateusz. Anything that helps those of us who are a bit unsure of numbers is useful.