18 October 2005

Meeting the Press

So, I've not only survived my first encounter with the student newspaper, I seem to have triumphed. *smile*

I've been told (admittedly, by members of the Administration) that the editor-in-chief has something of a conspiracy theorist take on the University administration and has been known to pull things out of context and make mountains out of molehills without always checking his facts (it's unclear to me whether he intentionally ignores context or simply doesn't bother to find it out in the first place; I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt given that my sources are admittedly all "on the other side" of things from him). So I was a little nervous to meet with a reporter who stated that said editor had asked her to follow up on a rumor that new freshmen were dropping out of the University at a much higher rate this fall than ever before.

When I pulled the data, I found that while the trend was up slightly from last year, it was within a reasonable confidence interval (+/- 0.2%) of the trend line of the past five years. Yes, there's some fluctuation - with last year being -0.2% from the trend and this year being +0.2% of the trend - but, in my opinion, it's not enough to make a big deal about.

I was worried, though, that the reporter would simply focus on the change from last year, and was envisioning sensational headlines a la Spiderman. And there are a couple that, while technically correct, would be misleading as all get out and would constitute a rather blatant misuse of statistics.

Color me relieved, then, when the reporter sat down with me, listened to me talk for a minute about the trend and where things were this fall, looked at the nice little chart I prepared for her, and said, "So, there's not really any news here." *whew* She took my data to give proof to the editor that there wasn't a story there and was going to go ask him for another story assignment for this week.

I feel bad for the reporter because it's rather late in their news week and she's apparently already talked to several other people about the story, but today was the first time I could meet with her and no one else could give her solid data to deter her before she'd invested the time. I guess that's just part of journalism, though. And in all honesty, I'm just happy to not be the source for potentially controversial data. I'd rather never be mentioned in the press, but if I'm going to be, I'd prefer my debut to be something positive.

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