numeracy, journalism, education, training, quantitative literacy, data journalism


If the history of journalism education has been a footnote to accounts of the profession’s development, then the history of numeracy training for journalists must be considered a footnote to a footnote. Despite the universally acknowledged centrality of numbers to a clear understanding of the world, many journalism students and entrants are proudly number-phobic; it is even suggested that an aversion to maths is a key reason why some choose journalism as a career. This study traces the development of numeracy education for journalists in England. It is only with the incipient professionalisation of journalism from the mid-19th century that numeracy becomes problematic, partly because of the rise of mass education in the 1870s and partly because of the changing nature of news. Yet - drawing on manuals, biographies and personal accounts – it turns out it was as late as the 1940s before any systematic plan to counter the prevailing literary leanings of journalists was proposed, and a further 30 years before this took root in the academy. The picture today is mixed, with professional and accreditation bodies, industry-sponsored initiatives, non-journalism organisations and academic institutions all playing a part. The consequences of this are evident in misreported or under-reported news stories. The lack of a coherent approach to numeracy training, or even agreement as to what it should comprise, exposes a critical weakness in journalism’s mission to explain.



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