I think that the most helpful piece of information within this article was the 5 most common math mistakes made by journalists in the media. It’s a good, concise thing for me to keep in mind while I’m reporting so that I know what to look out for when I’m reporting numbers, figures, or statistics of any kind.
- A journalist mishears a correct number given to them by a source and fails to double-check it. This was interesting because it’s such a simple mistake that someone can make. It’s not something like a computer malfunction or a messed up email, it’s the human ability to mishear something. DOUBLE-CHECK!
- A source unwittingly provides a mistaken piece of information and the journalist fails to verify it. This is a lot like the first, but this goes back to the “mother says she loves you” rule. I think it would be a good practice (for me at least) to go back through interviews and verify any information that seems off, or that I’m uncomfortable with.
- A source deliberately fudges the numbers and the journalist fails to verify them. This is extremely possible, especially if you’re reporting on a company who wants their numbers to seem better than they are.
- A journalist or editor miscalculates a figure. Practice math!!! It’s important to double, or triple check your math. Don’t rely on mental math (at least for the final figure) use calculators and maybe even ask someone else to check your work!
- A journalist re-reports a mistake made by another media outlet. This happens all the time, and we’ve most recently seen this with Tom Petty’s death, though it had nothing to do with numbers. People want to be quick with their information, so if a news piece has a number, other sources will run with it.