Making Statistics Have Impact

By Andrew Gauthier 

What does this Allstate ad have to do with your newscast tonight?

Your newscast every night is filled with statistics:


The earthquake in Chile has displaces 1.5 million people.

The police chief says the crime rate is up 2 percent.

The fire chief says his department is putting out 7 percent fewer fires but responding to 4 percent more medical calls.

The mayor says $725,000 are needed to fix the potholes.

The builder says his new high-rise will be 32 stories tall.

Put numbers into perspective
The statistic above that nearly 6,000 teens tie every year in car crashes in startling, but it is even more startling when it is compared to 12 jumbo jets crashing. Allstate simply put a statistic into perspective to make it hit home.

The key to reporting statistics is to put those numbers in perspective. How many of you have reported that “three more soldiers were killed in Iraq, bringing the total number of soldiers killed to 4698.” That sounds like the same story you reported yesterday, and will sound like the same story you will report tomorrow and the day after. With big numbers like that, the more you can break them down the more impact they will have on the viewer. For instance, if you report that about 120 soldiers have been killed in just the past two months in Iraq and Afghanistan that number really has impact.

Reference your statistics whenever possible. Here are some examples:

Statistic: The earthquake in Chile has displaced 1.5 million people.
Explanation: 1.5 million is the population of Kansas City.

Statistic: “Smoke from the fires has reached 30,000 feet.”
Explanation: The smoke is so high, it’s now as far up as where passenger jets fly.”

Statistic: “The new building will be 50 stories tall.”
Explanation: “The new building will be about as tall as the Washington Monument.”

Statistic: “The murder rate is up 2 percent.”
Explanation: “17 more people were murdered in the last 12 months than the year before.”

By using the internet, you can convert statistics into more meaningful stories very easily. Check out Online Conversion: You’ll find almost any tool you need to convert almost any statistic you have. Plus, compare the number to things in your market that viewers will know. By comparing that statistic to something that viewers are familiar with, viewers will be able to connect much more easily to the story.

More work but better results
Referencing statistics may take a little more work. It’s easy to just throw the statistic out there, but going the extra step will bring the story into context for the viewer. Isn’t that our ultimate goal, to make the story as easy to understand as possible?

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. He can be reached at