Math for journalists - and readers

Anthony Moretti | Point Park University

One of the most troubling elements for many students in an introductory journalism class is determining how to use math in a journalism context. I created the �math lab� to help students understand that solving the problem is not enough; the answer must then be written (and presented) in a way that a reader/viewer can understand.

The math lab is a review of math concepts and formulas that frequently arise in news stories. I start with a lecture, and the PowerPoint that I use as the basis for that lecture is on the DVD. The review is followed by a set of exercises in which they apply what they�ve learned to a variety of news scenarios. Sometimes students do the work in class; sometimes it�s a take-home assignment. Those exercises and the answer sheet are also on the DVD.

The assignment presumes that the students see math as an enemy, and something �above their pay grade.� Thus, time is spent going over each element of the lab: how to perform the calculations, what these calculations mean, when these math concepts are needed, etc. Most students seem confident of their abilities to do the math, but that often changes once the lab is attempted.

The math lab is a recognition that journalism + math = trouble. But more importantly, it is an assignment that reminds students DOING math correctly is NOT the end of the story; those numbers also must be put into a context that is understandable to the reader/listener/viewer. Therefore, the numbers are step one in a two-step process. The second step is making sure the �what does that number mean?� is reported fully.

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