On BioScience and Life and Such

Quantifying (Scientific) Journalism Quality

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2008 at 11:10 am

My father is a journalist, he has been so his whole life. He has taught journalist-students and written books on journalism and he is quite objectively, a wise man. I’ll prove that to you by presenting one of his key journalistic concepts – the journalistic equation (slightly modified by me):

J = KP x S(o) x S(k)

Journalism=Knowledge x Presentation x Sources x Skill. The short explanation of (my understanding) of the parameters are: knowledge (K) is the necessary prior information one needs before writing starts, presentation (P) is your ability to reach your target audience, sources (S(o)) represents the sources you have used and skill (S(k)) represents your ability to critically review and balance the information from these sources.

The equation was written to help journalist-students understand some journalism basics (surprisingly many fail in these basic skills). His main point has always been that a score of zero in any of these factors would give you a score of zero for journalism. And, this is adequate I guess, in many settings.

But, since it comes natural to a son to try and outcompete his father or (as a less aggressive alternative) to build further on his work, I’ll try and expand on his formula by putting numbers on it. I believe the formula in this way can be put to good use for us common readers of news, now as a reviewing tool rather than an educational one. Although, hopefully there is something to be learned (for journalists) by being reviewed as well.

J=1 would mean excellent journalism, no flaws, and J=0 would mean completely flawed. All factors get a score between 0 and 1.

As an example, a professor in protein structure biochemistry would get a “K=1” for writing a piece on the crystal structure of a protein and he would probably score “S(o)=1″ on sources. But, the professor could easily score less than one on his ability to scrutinize the sources (S(k)=0,85) and quite possibly get a “P=0,5” for presentation. This would give his news piece a J=0,425. The nature of the equation makes it very hard to achieve a score close to 1, and even with numbers close to 1 for each parameter, J will probably be closer to 0,5 than1. That’s intentional, – a perfect news piece is rare, and most are flawed to a larger or lesser extent.

To complete this project of numerical assessment I need to put together a calculator, and I will. But, for now anyone can still use the equation, – after all it’s just multiplying numbers between zero and one and get a value out. I propose to call it the  J-value (although as a tribute to my father, I may be calling it a “Reinton-value” ).

My small contribution to try and make (science) journalism better…..is from now on to put a Reinton-value on any news piece I comment on.

I hope many others will use this tool too – Reinton-value=J = KP x S(o) x S(k) – remember, power lies in the numbers.