Data and Statistics in Journalism and Journalism Education

Publisher: Special Issue, Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 17 (1)


Statistics are prominently featured in the news on a daily basis. In today’s increasingly data-driven society, resourceful institutions in every political, economical and social area resort to numerical data as a crucial tool to shape public opinion. The way statistics are represented in the news, therefore, has a potentially strong influence on the outcome of public affairs. Yet most citizens, and many reporters, do not have the knowledge and skills needed to process and read them critically. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that this has often led to an ill informed public who might apply flawed reasoning in their democratic participation. Other evidence (e.g. recent exposures of British MP expenses), however, suggests that when data are well sourced, critically scrutinised and effectively presented, they could effectively engage the public with related issues and mobilise them to take necessary action.

Beyond specific cases and peculiar observations, however, few studies have systematically examined how journalists perceive, access and use statistics in their news production and how this might affect the way people understand and respond to public affairs. This gap seems to be widened by the fact that statistics might require a journalistic treatment that is distinctive from other kind of “raw” information. This special issue of Journalism invites papers that examine these and related issues as well as their implications for journalism education.

Potential topics

The special issue is open to any paper exploring journalistic approaches to quantitative data in newsgathering and news presentation, public reception of such data in different contexts, and what journalism education can/should do to equip journalists with the essential tools and mindset to put numbers into good journalistic uses. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, issues surrounding the following questions:

1. How do journalists perceive the role and function of statistics in their daily news operation?

2. What types of statistics are often used in the news – and how?

3. For what purposes do journalists often use statistics?

4. What are the commonly used or misused practices in data-based news?

5. What distinctive professional knowledge and skills do journalists need for sourcing, gathering and presenting statistics in the news?

6. What operational factors (e.g. statistical knowledge/skills, source relationships, ethical standards and newsroom resources) might facilitate or hinder journalists’ ability to access and use statistics?

7. How do statistics in the media affect the public’s understanding of and engagement with news and current affairs?

8.How has journalism responded to opportunities and challenges presented by emerging technologies, especially digital media?

9. How has journalism training/education responded to the intensifying need for statistical expertise among journalists?

10.What effective training/education methods could be considered to improve journalists’ statistical knowledge and skills?

Source: Manual