Quantitative Skills (QS) can give you the edge over other journalists, enable you to source stories from within data sets and critically engage with ‘evidence’ from politicians! Find out more from the Guardian DataBlog Editor and a BBC Business Reporter.
“I always wanted to tell stories with words: I couldn’t have imagined telling them with numbers, but that’s how it’s worked out.”
Tell us about your studies and early encounters with QS.
I was terrible at maths at school and absolutely hated it. At university I studied Sociology before going on to do a newspaper course.
How did you first start using QS in your work?
My first job was to compile a database for a branding magazine, so I quickly got into collating information for a living. It was very much part of my job as a news editor at the Guardian. I started collecting data and soon needed ways to bring together and compare datasets. Most data-journalism answers very simple questions: has it got smaller or bigger? How does it compare to something else? So I needed the tools to do those jobs.
How do you use QS in your work now?
I now edit the Guardian Datablog and Datastore, which publishes and analyses the data behind the news – the idea is to make the big stories much more accessible.
What advice would you pass on to current students about QS?
QS give you a way of seeing the world, of working out what’s really going on. But make sure you don’t neglect the qualitative too: numbers on their own are just numbers. They need context to bring them alive.
“Being comfortable with numbers sets you apart from many other journalists.”
Tell us about your studies and early experiences of QS.
I did an interesting project for A-Level Maths analysing the results of every cricket test match between England and Australia. Looking at the stats enabled me to conclude that we were experiencing a golden age of test cricket. I went on to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at university.
How have you used QS in your work?
My analysis of the figures behind the Spending Review won me the Royal Statistical Society’s award for excellence in online journalism last year. I have also been working on interactive, data-led applications such as the BBC’s budget calculator and student finance calculator.
What advice would you give budding journalists regarding the importance of QS?
Having QS will make you stand out. They will help you to develop the alarm bells that go off in your head when PR companies send you bogus research or governments announce figures that do not add up.
These case studies represent a selection from the British Academy’s Stand Out and Be Counted booklet.
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