A few days ago, Boston Globe reporter Matt Carroll stopped by my Reinventing the News class to talk about using data as a tool for journalism.
Carroll is an investigative journalist and has used numbers and data for big stories including one on the deadly hazards in the Big Dig tunnels. The Boston Globe and Boston.com rely heavily on Carroll’s knowledge of configuring numbers and statistics. Knowing how to play with the data is something all journalists should know, Carroll said. He said that even people who are not good with numbers can learn this stuff. If there’s one thing I can say for certain about myself is that I am definitely not good with numbers. Math was never my thing. Ever.
Even so, I understand where Carroll is coming from in terms of how important what he does is. Knowing how to use statistics to make a graph or sort things can really enhance a news story. Carroll did a short presentation on how to use statistics in Excel. I believe that something like this just needs practice. Excel is a complex program, so one definitely needs to use it often to perfect it and limit the number of mistakes.
A few years back when I was on co-op at City Weekly at the Boston Globe, I sat right across from Carroll for six months. During my time there, Carroll taught me Excel, or at least the basics of it. I must say, there are many layers to Excel but it’s a very important tool to know. Everything I know about Excel I owe to Matt Carroll; and if I can learn to work with numbers, trust me, anyone can.