I’ve discussed before how our political discourse shouldn’t be the sole purview of English majors, that some topics might gain from being covered by those who have some mathematical training (quite a few science journalists do have this, and are quite good at reporting ‘quantitative’ stories). A reader sends us a link to this column by Washington Post ombudsman* Andrew Alexander about the problem of mathematical illiteracy among journalists. I often get some pushback on the whole English major thing, so it was refreshing to read this:
“We are, more or less, an industry of English majors,” said Allison Martell, a Canadian freelance writer who has written extensively about math and statistical literacy among journalists. “But there’s a fear of math in the population in general. So it’s natural we would find this among journalists, too.”
Obviously, we need people who are good writers, but increasingly, many stories are increasingly data-driven and need reporters who can analyze large amounts of quantitative data. So I was a little stunned (‘little stunned’ is why we shouldn’t get rid of the English majors….) when I read this:
Many newsrooms provide remedial math training, but that’s not been done at The Post. It should be considered.
Why is this shocking? Because we are long past the days where, at a major paper like The Washington Post, someone works his way up from the mailroom to being a reporter. Most, if not all of the reporters, graduated from ‘very selective’ colleges. That reporters require remedial math training, while not especially flattering for the profession of journalism, is a serious indictment of our elite educational institutions. Put simply, how were they allowed to graduate?
If graduates of these schools are to be granted prerogatives, at the very least, they can have the goods to back that up. A meritocracy is supposed to be based on merit.
*Betcha didn’t know that ombudsman comes from the old Norse, umbodhsmadhr, which means deputy or plenipotentiary. Now you do.