Boston Globe employee and Northeastern alum Matt Carroll preaches what he calls “the gospel of data.”
Since entering the world of numbers about 15 years back, with little background in math or statistics, Carroll has worked to revolutionize the way readers receive news. For the Mass.Facts section of Boston.com, Carroll pillages through public records and databases for information that can can be repackaged into easy-to-grasp charts and graphs. Rather than just serving up hard facts with a side of puzzling numbers, here, readers can access diagrams and charts that make the whole picture much more digestible.
Look, for instance, at the work Carroll has done for the “Your town” segment of the site. Here, readers can select a topic– anything from the number of inmates to the number of Dunkin’ Donuts– and then compare their town’s stats with other Massachusetts locations.
Carroll said the stats on gun licenses per 1,000 residents are often of particular interest. So, those interested, can simply click the link to this item from the Mass.Facts homepage, and find a comprehensible chart representing the distribution of gun licenses across the state– the bolder the orange, the more gun licenses. Also, for those who crave the real figures, the actual stats for each community are listed below.
Carroll said that getting comfortable with calculations has changed the way he looks at the world. And with the nature of journalism today, having skills in number crunching and chart crafting are key. But, he said, the tools of today’s technology make that relatively easy. Through data visualization sites like Many Eyes, numbers can be effortlessly converted into charts of all shapes and sizes.
While I’m certainly no mathematician, I’d say Carroll’s insistence on making sense out of numbers is necessary to keeping good journalism alive and well. And perhaps that’s just it– as pathetic as it may sound– with so many of us who cringe at the sight of a large figure, we almost NEED someone like Carroll in order to hold on to the data and facts in their rawest form. We NEED that person breaking everything up into nice little molds for those of us who would simply disregard the numbers otherwise. With everything so digestible; so easy-access and at-a-glance these days, the numbers too must keep up the pace.