Writing, writing tips, writing myths

Do journalists like facts and figures?

Media training a couple of weeks ago I was struck by one delegate’s insistence on coming out with a statistic for everything.  He was a businessperson, the readers were businesspeople, they’d welcome everything being backed up by a solid fact.

It’s difficult to argue with that on the surface, but I’ll have a go. The fact is that businesspeople might not like dry facts with everything but they need them. Let me put it this way: the business community deals with facts and figures all the time but only when it’s pretty much being paid to do so.

The journalist’s job, in the majority of cases, is to take up what happens after that.

Would you read dry facts over coffee?

Basically the dry business stuff is dispensed with, the coffee comes out and someone picks up the paper, the tablet, the phone, whatever they want to read on. At that point they’re interested less in the raw data and more in the stories behind it.

This is why, for example, when  I was writing extensively for the Guardian’s small business section, they always asked me to get pictures of the people involved even when the story was about the difference the technology made.  All of their research said that people buy from people and people want to read about people, so putting human beings on the cover was better than a screen grab or picture of a shiny new phone or something.

Technology has changed but that central truth hasn’t. So if I’m interviewing you about a new widget you’ve invented and your stat says it enables a 10% time saving, why not tell me about what someone did when they’d saved that time? Or how they were able to grow the business steadily without employing someone they could ill afford, or something like that?

Show me a human face and tell a story whenever you can. By all means use the stats to support the story, but that’s what they are – a support. My job is to relay stories; tell me a few and it could be to our mutual benefit.

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