We can measure a crowd — even at an inauguration

If President Trump wants to cast doubt, he might pick a target that is less easily measured than crowd size. We can count people. People take up space. Here’s a rule of thumb, explained by Professor Steve Doig of Arizona Statue University.

A loose crowd, one where each person is an arm’s length from the body of his or her nearest neighbors, needs 10 square feet per person. A more tightly packed crowd fills 4.5 square feet per person. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density would get about 2.5 square feet per person.

Read more about it via How big will inaugural crowd be? Do the math – politics – Inauguration | NBC News.


Golly Molly, let’s type

Old-school printers owned a collection of lead letters and numbers. They set the type for stories and headlines from that font. Limits can be freeing. Printers didn’t stand around every day wondering what typeface was best. They used what they had. I sometimes am overwhelmed by the choices before me. Designer Pablo Stanley, via The Type Snob, offers advice for choosing typefaces that are readable. That’s the point of text — to convey ideas. I even learned to make a real dash on the Mac — option shift hyphen. I know better than to use two em dashes in a row. But I had to practice.

Witnessing the birth of today’s stars | Space | EarthSky

Reporting about the very far away is difficult, as journalists routinely rely on interviews and observation. Deborah Byrd, editor of long-running EarthSky.org, has written a classic example of a “discovery story” about scientific observation of the long ago and very far away.

She uses simples techniques and summary. I love the literal bottom line:

Bottom line: Astronomers have used radio telescopes to obtain a first-ever look at the distant galaxies where most of today’s stars were born, 10 billion years ago.

She starts with a similar summary. Then she explains the discovery, the tools that allowed it, and the challenge for observers. She uses comparison to familiar items — dust and mobile phones.

Read it via Witnessing the birth of today’s stars | Space | EarthSky

What to put into a story and what to leave out

Workshop for Illinois Journalism Education Association

The time has come for journalists to embrace more transparency and to enhance verification of stories. One way to do this is with links and annotation. I could write lots of words about this, but showing beats telling. Illinois journalism student Austin Keating shared some of his favorite examples with me, which I’m passing along to high school students today:

WaitButWhy.com http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html

Austin’s go-to favorite with genius.it (news.genius.com) http://blogs.reuters.com/equals/2014/03/20/is-there-a-gender-gap-in-tech-salaries/#/

A website about the California water crisis. “This link lands you on the background page, but they continually put out news stories on other parts of the website. http://www.waterdeeply.org/background/supply/

Traditionally, footnotes and end notes have been omitted in the news. But maybe we need more of them for the sake of transparency and verification. Let the readers check out what we’ve done. One classic from 2004 by David Foster Wallace is “Consider the Lobster” in Gourmet magazine. http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/08/consider_the_lobster.html

And just this week comes the Atlantic Monthly’s report on families and the effect of imprisonment:


The Atlantic said “incarceration.” I said “imprisonment.” What do we explain? What words do we define? Do we say what a QB is in a football story? A first chair trombone player in a band story? Archaea in a story about a biology student? When does the vocabulary need explaining? And to whom? These are questions about audience.

When I teach science writing, I teach three things all semester long:

  • Appeal to the senses. Write descriptively
  • Put people in the story. Write with characters.
  • Build the vocabulary step by step.

Today, I want to focus on the vocabulary, or the jargon.

We’ll read this story from the Associated Press and brainstorm about it. AP story on deaths linked to air pollution: http://customwire.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SCI_KILLER_AIR?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2015-09-16-19-56-53

And the scientific publication it used as a source: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v525/n7569/full/nature15371.html

Embed links under narrative text.

Now, my name is Jennifer, and with letting readers jump off, you can let them get really distracted, as I did when I ended up at this story about baby names. My name is Jennifer, and this article reveals some information about my name and its (lack of) current popularity.