By John Bailer and Richard Campbell
Challenged to produce a course that would address those students who often fear quantitative reasoning, we collaborated on a new course titled “News & Numbers.” Taken by honors students from four of five of Miami University’s colleges, the course was a success.
We enjoyed our partnership and vowed to look for other opportunities to continue a fruitful and fun-filled journalism-statistics partnership. In late 2012, as the statistics profession prepared for the International Year of Statistics, the American Statistical Association was planning for its 175th anniversary. Given this context, we started thinking that the time was right to launch a new collaboration. We decided that a webcast/podcast would extend our reach beyond the classroom.
From left, guest Trevor Butterworth, John Bailer, Bob Long and Richard Campbell record an episode of Stats+Stories at Miami University.
How do you determine the structure for such a program? We started with examples of shows and podcasts that we thought were good models. The Car Talk, Freakonomics and Science Friday programs and podcasts were inspiring models. We thought applying our journalism-statistics partnership to conversations with guests would be a novel combination and the webcast/podcast “Stats+Stories” was born.
We wanted this to have a quality sound with high-production values, so sound engineers were part of our team from the start. A communications specialist was invited to be part of the team to help with promoting the program. We needed to develop web pages for hosting the program site and audio files for programs and to set up the system for the launching the podcasts.
The on-air “talent” was going to be a “stories” guy (Campbell), a “stats” guy (Bailer) and a moderator. Bob Long, a former public radio newscaster with a resonant voice and a strong sense for program pacing, joined the show as moderator. A title for our program–Stats+Stories–emerged in early discussions among the team. While our class was a quantitative literacy, news and numbers class, we decided our show’s tagline would be “The statistics behind the stories and the stories behind the statistics.”
We had to make logistical decisions related to the program such as episode length (30 minutes); structure (we decided on the following show format: opening package, introduction, conversation session one, person-on-the-street interviews one, conversation session two, person-on-the-street interviews two, conversation session three, and closing); and introductory royalty-free music. Before recording the first episode, we also needed to determine:
- Production and recording logistics (radio studio); theme music; web site.
- Model? Nightline (3-5 minute student news report followed by conversation).
- Who is “on air”? Moderator + two panelists (stat, journalist) + guest.
- Topics for episodes? Mix of serious and fun. Timely topics good.
- Post-production deliverable format mp3, web site, iTunes
Finally, we needed to decide topics for episodes and guests. We wanted a mix of serious and lighter topics and guests who were statisticians, journalists, scientists and people who relied on numbers and stats in everyday jobs.
We recorded a demo show and sent it to experts for review and critique. The good news was the experts thought the program was a great idea and liked Bob’s voice and the person-on-the-street interviews. The constructive criticism: We took too long to get to the interview and used a bit too much jargon. The experts encourage us to keep our responses and comments short or risk inducing ‘ear fatigue.’ After these reviews, we had the makings of the program you now hear today.
Guest Trevor Butterworth (right) makes a point as “Stories” guy Richard Campbell listens intently.
To date, we have released 15 episodes–approximately a new show every two months–with topics including forensic data analysis, baseball stats, medical research, extrasensory perception, financial reporting, network TV ratings, and more. Naming each episode is part of the fun. “CSI–Crime Statistics Investigated” is a favorite.
Since we have started, visitors from 101 countries have listened to our programs on www.statsandstories.net. We hope to continue to expand the reach and impact of the Stats+Stories program.
We invite and encourage your to listen to the archived episodes. And, please, send us your story and guest suggestions, program comments and feedback. Email statsandstories@MiamiOH.edu with your thoughts.
Bailer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the Department of Statistics and Campbell (email@example.com) is chair of the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.