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Presentation 8F1. Statistical Literacy and the Media

Martin Podehl (Canada)


Presentation Abstract
The overwhelming majority of the public will never directly consult a national statistical agency, or communicate with it directly. For most people, the news media, that is newspapers, radio and television, provide their only exposure to a data-gathering agency's information. Through them, the agency achieves its goal of informing the public of economic and social conditions to a degree it could not achieve with its own resources. Consequently, collaboration with the news media, who act as the agency's gatekeepers to the public, is of great importance to the agency. As journalists frequently change assignments, and as many of them usually have no formal training in statistics, providing a form of "education" in statistical literacy is an ongoing concern for the agency. Similarly, making staff aware of the needs and requirements is an essential step in communicating effectively through the media.

The challenge for an agency is to build a media relations program that:

+ Addresses the demand of general news journalists (as opposed to specialists) for news releases that are consistently readable and newsworthy, and written in journalistic style and language to make data easily accessible and understandable;

+ Extends and improves the analysis of data released to the media through news releases,
(consultations show that journalists generally do not have the time or the skills to analyze raw data);

+ Provides a media inquiry service dedicated to dealing with requests from the news media, as well as setting formal procedures requiring subject-matter specialists to deal with media enquiries in their areas of expertise;

+ Administers a response to the media program, under which an agency responds quickly, usually within two working days, to erroneous or unfairly critical coverage of the agency or its data. Responses usually take the form of letters to the editor;

+ Conducts regular training programs so the agency's staff are ready and able to deal effectively with requests from journalists, up to and including televised interviews.

Statistics Canada has an extremely effective media relations program that occupies an integral place in its information dissemination strategy, with journalists as key partners. The Agency has a long tradition in providing services to the media, and in building and maintaining professional relationships with them.

The paper will outline the various elements of the media relations program that Statistics Canada has developed over the years.


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