ARTICLE: Journalism students need better statistics education

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Journalism students would benefit from a statistics course specifically tailored for future journalists, Justin D. Martin, of Northwestern University in Qatar, argues. Martin surveyed all four-year journalism programs in the US in order to find out how many offered this kind of courses.

Only 19 per cent of American journalism programs require their students to take at least one statistics course, the author discovered. None of these courses were taught within the programs themselves – most were general statistics courses not fitted for future journalists. Luckily, at least few courses seem to carry a journalistic disposition (being named, for example, “Statistics in the News”), despite being offered by Math rather than Journalism departments.

Due to the strong tradition of quantitative research in journalism scholarship, many departments host academics comfortable with both journalism and statistics, Martin writes. Thus, creating in-house statistics courses should not be an issue. This kind of custom-fitted courses could increase journalism students’ interest in and retention of statistics knowledge, he argues.

For example, introducing real-life examples of how journalists have (misleadingly) covered statistical research would be a good way to illustrate the uses of statistics literacy in journalism, the author suggests. In general, the courses’ should foster enthusiasm and critical thought toward statistical information – not turn would-be journalists into “formulae banks”, Martin emphasizes.

The article “A Census of Statistics Requirements at U.S. Journalism Programs and a Model for a ‘Statistics for Journalism’ Course” was published by the journal Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. It is available online (abstract free).

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