Statistics, in context, help tell stories
Statistics are important parts of telling stories, and they are what every journalist should understand to accomplish the important goal of painting a clear picture for the reader.
That is why they need to be communicated with a qualifier, so that they aren’t taken out of context.
The police are an important example of where statistics fluctuate a lot, which makes it even more important to put the stats into context. The information also needs to be taken with a grain of salt when reading.
Police statistics are an important aspect in shedding light on whether there is a problem in a community. They can also provide a view of when and where the problem most likely occurs. But some snapshots can be misleading.
For example, in the months leading up to a vehicle safety blitz in Merritt, the number of vehicle break-ins had substantially increased. In reading these numbers, it should be understood that an increase of 250 per cent could only be an increase of a couple break-ins.
A clearer picture is painted when taking the entire year’s number of break-ins into consideration.
Some members of the media use shocking stats to draw the readers’ attentions, rather than communicate the clearest picture. Other times, the issue is the number of stats available for use are limited in scope, and should be qualified as much as possible.
Readers and journalists should also note that statistics could be manipulated to make a point stronger.
Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
While stats can be used to say just about anything, they can also be extremely truthful.
A simple stat, when used effectively, can build more understanding than a 500-word article.
Rebecca Goldin, math professor at George Mason University said, “I would argue that statistics can tell us lots of useful things when used appropriately, and that the more the media does this for us, the more educated we can be as news consumers, and the better we will be at truly evaluating risk for ourselves and others.”