ASA Newsroom

Is Your Statistics Story Newsworthy?

News is what reporters want to cover, not necessarily what organizations, agencies and institutions want to publicize. In other words, newsworthiness of statistics-related topics, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder-or in this case, the journalist.

So what do journalists consider to be important? In Science and Journalists-Reporting Science as News, Sharon M. Friedman writes, "Editors and reporters tend to value stories that contain drama, human interest, relevance or application to the reader- criteria that don't always map easily onto scientific importance."

If scientific importance doesn't guarantee newsworthiness, what other criteria might apply? In The Hands-On Guide for Science Communicators, Lars Lindberg Christensen of the European Southern Observatory offers the following criteria, noting the more that are satisfied, the better the chances you have a "good story" on your hands (while this list is oriented toward science researchers, it still translates to your work as a statistician):

  • Timing: The event has just taken place or the work has just been published.
  • Relevance: The issue has influence on people's lives or on the way they think about the world.
  • Proximity: There's a local angle for readers or the event happened in a special location.
  • Implications: The result has profound consequences.
  • Conflict: The discovery involves a hotly debated topic or resolves a hotly contested issue.
  • Human interest: There's something special about the scientist or circumstances of the discovery.
  • Mystery: The finding involves a mysterious or unexpected phenomenon.
  • Significance: An entirely new phenomenon, class of object or a key finding in a critical field.
  • Unusual angle: A new twist on an old result or a quantum leap in certainty about something.
  • A record: The discovery is the first, last, oldest, youngest, biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest etc.
  • Sexiness: Not in the usual sense, but in the sense that people are always interested (e.g., in black holes).
  • Aesthetics: The finding is accompanied by an exceptionally beautiful image or spectacular video.
  • Distinguished publication: The work is published in a leading, prestigious journal.
  • Coattails: The result is related to or piggybacks on something else currently in the news.

In Making the News, Jason Salzman offers some additional criteria: novelty, shock, simplicity, humor, involvement of a prominent person or an anniversary. He then lists some aspects that will send reporters running in the other direction. Of particular relevance to science news, that list includes complexity.

Here's an easy way to tell if you have a newsworthy story: In a single paragraph of no more than 75 words, answer these questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? And, most importantly, so what? Then show your paragraph to someone who isn't a statistician. If he or she is intrigued, you've got news; if not, you probably don't.

Do You Have a Newsworthy Story?

At the American Statistical Association (ASA), our mission is to promote the practice and profession of statistics to all audiences, especially the nation's news media. The ASA wants to share information with reporters about the significant work you and other ASA members are doing, so let us know about your groundbreaking work in statistical application and data analysis.

To submit information about your innovative work, send an email with your contact information to ASA Public Relations Coordinator Jeff Myers at Jeffrey@amstat.org. He will work with you to make your story attractive-or newsworthy-to journalists. (Please note that the ASA offers no guarantees that it will find your story idea newsworthy, or that your story will be published.)