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Telling the story. Training statisticians at Statistics Canada. Three principal courses . Writing for the Web Encountering the media Writing for The Daily. Writing for The Daily. Course objectives: Intro to the world of journalists: Meeting their needs

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telling the story

Telling the story

Training statisticians

at Statistics Canada

three principal courses
Three principal courses
  • Writing for the Web
  • Encountering the media
  • Writing for The Daily
writing for the daily
Writing for The Daily

Course objectives:

  • Intro to the world of journalists: Meeting their needs
  • ‘Effective’ news release: benefits
  • Techniques of writing an effective news release
writing for the daily1
Writing for The Daily

‘Effective release’: benefits

  • Gives journalists a story to write about
  • Explains context, trends and relationships behind the numbers
  • Unfiltered coverage (direct quotes)
  • Less chance of misinterpretation
  • Analysts spend less time on the phone
writing for the daily2
Writing for The Daily
  • One-day course
  • Two instructors
  • Concentrates on the basics
  • Telling the story
  • Who, what, why, when, where, how
  • Key question: Why should Canadians want to read this?
3 writing for the daily
3. Writing for The Daily

What is The Daily?

  • Statistics Canada’s official release bulletin
  • Published every working day, both official languages
  • Target audience: General news journalists
  • Written in journalistic style
writing for the daily3
Writing for The Daily

Three modules:

1. The basics: Writing for journalists

2. Case studies

3. Hands-on exercise

writing for the daily4
Writing for The Daily

What journalists don’t need…

  • Long, complex texts
  • Having to dig for a story
  • Jargon
  • Backing in or “peeling the onion” (get to the point)
  • Plethora of numbers
  • Complicated charts and tables
writing for the daily5
Writing for The Daily

Module 1: Teaching the basics

  • NEWS: A story line, major findings
  • Journalistic style: Inverted pyramid, story lines, leads, strong subheads
  • The text (clear, concise, simple)
  • Timely data in understandable form
  • Context and analysis – Answer the why and how, where possible
  • Information on trends, lows, highs
  • Graphics with clear, visual messages
writing for the daily6
Writing for The Daily

Module 2: Case studies

What works, what doesn’t

Follow a news release from:

  • draft copy
  • to The Daily text
  • to media coverage

A good learning experience!

writing for the daily7
Writing for The Daily

Lead para in draft copy:

“An estimated 449,720 pregnancies ended during 2001, almost 15% fewer than the peak in 1990 (526,887) for the 28-year period 1974 to 2001. The corresponding pregnancy rate reached its peak in 1975 when there were 76.1 pregnancies for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 49 years.”

writing for the daily8
Writing for The Daily

Lead para in The Daily:

“Pregnancy rates among teenagers in 2001 were down by one-third from where they were nearly three decades earlier, according to new data. Meanwhile women over the age of 30 were accounting for a much higher rate.”

writing for the daily9
Writing for The Daily

Lead para in media coverage:

“Not only are fewer teens becoming pregnant than three decades ago, but many Canadian women are waiting to start families until their careers are in place, a study from Statistics Canada suggests.”

writing for the daily10
Writing for The Daily

Module 3: Hands-on exercise

  • Half a dozen paragraphs
  • Critiques by course participants
  • Journalistic style – did they get it?
  • Best way to learn
writing for the daily11
Writing for The Daily

The Numbers Game:

Writing about data: Make it stick!!!

the numbers game
The Numbers Game

Avoid proportions in brackets:

Working seniors were also somewhat more likely than younger people to report unpaid family work in 2004 (12% versus 4%).


About 12% of working seniors reported unpaid family work in 2004, three times the proportion of only 4% among younger people.

the numbers game1
The Numbers Game

Get the story right:

In total, spending in retail stores reached $246.8 billion in 2004. Of that amount, consumers spent $86.4 billion on motor vehicles and related products, and $59.3 billion on food and beverages.

the numbers game2
The Numbers Game

Here’s the story:

Canadians spent proportionally more on their cars in 2004 than they did on food and beverages.

Of every $100 consumers spent in retail stores, $31 went to vehicles and related services such as gasoline and oil, compared with only $23 for food and beverages.

the numbers game3
The Numbers Game

Percentages vs. proportions

The proportion of seniors who were in the labour force rose from 15% in 2003 to 20% in 2004, a 5% increase.......

Right? WRONG!!

the numbers game4
The Numbers Game

Treat these terms carefully:

  • Median vs. average
  • Ratio
  • Quintile
  • Decile
  • Longitudinal
the numbers game5
The Numbers Game


For the purposes of this analysis, households were divided into five groups according to their income, with each group representing 20%, or one-fifth, of all households. The one-fifth of Canadian households with the lowest incomes spent over 51% of their budget on food, shelter and clothing in 2002.

writing for the daily12
Writing for The Daily


  • One-day course
  • Teacher: professional journalist
  • Stress the fundamentals

-- Journalistic style

-- Story lines

-- Texts: clear, concise, simple

-- Convey data properly

  • Hands-on exercises
  • Use case studies
  • Reinforcement: Follow-up one on one
encountering the media
Encountering the media
  • Mandatory one-day course for official spokespeople
  • Provides knowledge of news media and techniques analysts can use to communicate effectively through interviews, such as bridging and deflecting
  • Practical exercises, simulated interviews
writing for the web
Writing for the Web
  • Two-day workshop
  • Explains unique nature of writing effective material for a website
  • Lectures, visits to websites and hands-on writing exercises
unece telling the story
UNECE – Telling the story

Thanks for your participation!

John Flanders

Senior media advisor

Statistics Canada

(613) 951-8292