April 2, 2010

Matt Carroll

Matt Carroll is not your typical journalist. He seems like any other regional reporter at the Boston Globe, covering state politics, special interest stories, local buisiness, all the typical stuff. But don’t let this fool you. In the newsroom, he is  the equivilent of a cat who likes taking baths. How? He is a journalist with a passion for numbers.

Now today’s typical math-phobic journalism student (a.k.a. wordies) might wonder how a zeal for numbers and expertise in compiling and interpreting statistics might serve as useful in a field saturated by English and history buffs. But to Carroll, these numbers are like any public record, interview or government document: they are just another tool to dig up stories.

Carroll believes that compiled statistics are as important to journalism as anything else.

Carroll has compiled numerous statistical charts and stats concerning Massachusetts, including a report he built concerning where the highest concentrations of licesed gun ownvers reside. He makes these documents public via wesites such as many-eyes, a document sharing site Carroll showed our reinventing the news class. This site allows users to not only post docs and statistics but also comment on the works of others.

Numbers cannot always be trusted: people manipulate numbers. It’s done all the time with graphs, maps and flimsy interpretations. Even numbers themselves can sometimes be unintentionally misleading. One particular case of this that Carroll cited was a time when he was compiling stats on automobile accidents in Massachusettes and couldn’t figure out why there were so many incidents at midnight…before he realized that the data read 12PM, not AM.

But it is the goal of reporters like Carroll to break down these statistics to their bare forms. And when these numbers are correctly examined, interpreted and processed, one is presented with something that, I believe, is as close to the unbiased truth as it comes.

Matt Carroll may not be your typical journalist. But it seems, and I think Carroll whould agree, that in today’s increasingly digital world, the future of journalism will depend on this new generation of journalists like Carroll: journalists who don’t fear the numbers, but embrace and utilize them.

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