A reader with long experience in the news biz writes:
Your post and Steven’s gave me my best laugh of the day. After a 25-year career in journalism at major metro dailies, I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of journo-colleagues who could read most of those books, let alone would choose to read them. A good number of those who could spent some time in newspapers and then took their intellectual curiosity and passion elsewhere — teaching, law, government, writing books. And it’s getting worse: The financial squeeze on the newspaper industry is hollowing out newsrooms, with many of the more engaged and talented mid-career people, who have a chance to pursue alternative careers, accepting buyouts and taking their experience with them.
At the very top of the newspaper business — NYT, WP, or WSJ — the analytical talent and intellectual levels are much higher, of course. But most Americans are getting their news from a local daily or Action/Eyewitness News at 5. I always considered it a victory if I could get reporters to be able to read and understand a government budget or distinguish between real and nominal growth. If you can get some budding journos to sip from your reading list, may the Force be with you.
The reference to real v. nominal growth reminds me of two glaring omissions from my earlier list:
* Huff’s classic How to Lie with Statistics
* Niederman and Boyum’s What the Numbers Say
How to Lie with Statistics is entertainingly written and illustated, and provides some good examples about how numbers and graphs can be used to deceive; Niederman and Boyum are more ambitious, attempting to give their readers both the desire to be good at quantitative reasoning (which is not at all the same thing as being “good at math” or “quick with figures”) and some useful ways of thinking about, and asking about, facts and arguments presented in quantitative form.
Which raises the next question:
As opposed to a list of documents to read, what would you nominate as the list of concepts journalism students should be exposed to? Here’s a quick sample:
* Institutional culture
* Regression toward the mean
* Moral hazard
* Expected value (of an uncertain outcome)
* Present value (of a stream of gains and losses over time)
* Statistical control
* Correlation v. causation
* Benefit-cost analysis and willingness-to-pay
* Separation of powers
* Mill’s “harm principle”
And how did I forget:
* Opportunity cost
* Cognitive dissonance
* Milgram experiment