Sunday, April 05, 2009

Go Figure: "Several" & The POOTA Phenomenon

Along with two other programs (Life-Saving Tips for Deadline Reporting and Conflict Reporting), I had the privilege of sharing "Go Figure: Making Numbers Count" with reporters and editors a few days ago, at the New York Press Association's annual convention in Saratoga Springs.

It's the third time I've trekked from Chicago to address the association, and as I do during every Go Figure session, I took the time to rail against the vague use of "several" in communication.

Below are two excerpts from my presentation, graciously filmed by Jeremy Bailey.

This first video shows the variety of numbers that people think of when asked how much or how many exactly is "several":

And this video shows me touching on the POOTA (Plucked Out of Thin Air) Phenomenon, in which sources serve up numbers without offering any substantiation as to how they came by those numbers. Obviously, as I note, it's imperative that reporters insist on proof behind the data: