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Math Tools for Journalists ch. 9-12

November 15, 2012

Numbers help accurately and effectively convey occurrences within the community, such as construction projects, accidents and races. Additionally, knowledge of the metric system allows one to report for an international audience, provided that all countries besides for the United States use the metric system.

Calculating distance, rate and time allows reporters to confirm the accuracy of accident reports and ensure readers receive the correct information. As Kathleen Woodruff Wickham indicates, “the challenge here is to be able to check the work of officials, and to do it with confidence” (122). Knowledge of formulas enable one to calculate the distance, rate or time, provided one knows two of the components in the formula.  The same applies for distance, time and average speed.  Such calculations are used when discussing transportation or competitive races.

Area measurements are used to explain the size of construction projects and buildings relevant to the audience. While Wickham explains analogies are often useful to communicate size, at times the exact measurements are of greater interest to the reader. The journalist needs to determine which is most appropriate in a given situation and know the formulas when the exact numbers are needed.

  • Perimeter is often used when writing about new developments, construction projects and sizes of objects on the ground
  • Circumference is necessary to communicate the perimeter of circular objects.
  • Area is used when discussing real estate and construction

Reporters refer to volume measurements when discussing business, especially to convey the selling price of goods. Units of measurement include cord, ton, barrel and gallon. A cord indicates a measurement of firewood, and a standard cord is 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high. While “tons” is a unit of measurement, there are three different types of tons: short ton, long ton and metric ton. A short ton equals 2,000 pounds; a long ton equals 2,240 pounds; and a metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms, which translates to 2,204.62 pounds.

As stated above, the metric system is useful when communicating to an international audience or writing about issues pertaining to commerce and science. In the metric system, the meter is the basic unit for length. Other measurements in the system are based on multiples of 10. For example, a centimeter is one-hundredth of a meter, a millimeter is one-thousandth of a meter and a kilometer is 1,000 meters. Wickham provides conversion formulas in “Math Tools for Journalists” to translate metric lengths into American lengths. One should multiply inches by 2.5 to find the number of centimeters. One can also multiply the number of feet by 0.3 to find meters and by 30 to find centimeters.

Stylistic rules also apply to units of measurements.

  • The name of all units start with a lower case letter except for “degree Celsius”
  • Unit symbols are written in lower case, except for liter and Newton
  • Symbols for units are never pluralized
  • In numbers less than one, zero should be written before the decimal point: 0.25

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. andersj permalink
    November 20, 2012 2:11 pm

    You did solid work on the “Math Tools” assignments. You can see why it’s a good idea to hang onto the “Math Tools” book for future reference. It is true that you can also actually use the Google search box or Wolfram Alpha to do a lot of the math, but you need to know what you’re looking for in the first place to be able to find details. I hope you will continue to keep a sharp eye on the significant value of numbers in reporting. Too many reporters don’t do the numbers – to the great loss of the public they serve.

  2. andersj permalink
    November 20, 2012 2:13 pm

    I will also just comment here that you were the only one in the Reporting course who took the Twitter work seriously and who continues to give a lot of value in your information curation and your ongoing Twitter conversation as a news professional and humanist.

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