Tag Archives: Math

Computer-assisted Reporting

I thought I’d write a bit about my third class which involves using the computer to do research for an assignment or to find a source. While not the most exciting of classes, it is really important to learn a few things that could make or break your article. We first learned the basics of the Internet, how it started, what a URL is…etc. Good to know a few of the technical aspects that tell you a lot of information (ie. where an e-mail was written and when, how to recognize spam, is that guy from Nigeria really going to give you a trillion dollars?!). Right now, we are looking into database research. Whether it involves creating our own database (as we did for an assignment involving the six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon…fun!) or looking over available databases from companies or institutes.

I have to admit that numbers scare me. I barely passed Math 436 (a requisite for graduating from high school) and dropped math as soon as I could. I did take two statistics courses in my undergraduate so I guess I am a step up from high school math (maybe). Still, I get nervous around numbers…which is bad when it comes to determining whether or not statistics given to me or read in an article are accurate. Luckily, if I were to write a story on something that involved numbers, I would have time to sit down and analyse it carefully. My stats courses in uni and this class specifically related to analysing stats in journalism will help me. Stats are tricky things and can be represented in a way that plays to the reader’s ignorance in math. Our prof, Laurie Nyveen, suggested some reading. Here is a book by Philip Meyer (earlier version available online) called The New Precision Journalism.

I just finished an assignment that involved combining two databases and looking at information on airplanes that are registered in Canada or owned by Canadians (Laurie likes planes…haha). Although I don’t have the slightest clue what year the authentic Spitfire was manufactured (I looked it up), it was interesting to learn how to search a database and make life a lot easier instead of counting or looking for things manually. This could save me a lot of time later.

While I might gripe and complain a bit during class (it is the morning one), in the end what I learned will be very valuable in my time as a journalist. Too many errors are made and too many statistics are displayed the wrong way. As journalists, we are meant to provide conscise and clear reading for people who are not professionals in that particular field. We are supposed to represent the truth…something hard to due if we don’t understand the numbers. This is something I have to work a bit harder on.

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