An overview of Kathleen Wickham’s ‘Math Tools for Journalists,’ chapters 9–12

Chapter 9: directional measurements

Reporters shouldn’t simply rely on numbers provided by people involved in a story. Checking the numbers in time, rate and distance problems usually involves just some basic math.

In time, rate and distance problems, the basic formula is the same, but components are switched around depending on the solution needed.

Distance = rate * time

Rate = distance / time

Time = distance / rate

Speed and velocity are not the same measurement. Speed measures how fast something is going, while velocity indicates its direction.

The speedometer on a car gives the driver the speed at exactly one moment. This is called instantaneous speed. A more useful figure for a reporter is average speed, which is calculated by dividing the distance traveled by the time it took to get there.

Average speed = distance / time

Acceleration = (ending velocity – starting velocity) / time


Ending velocity = (acceleration * time) + starting velocity

Mass is a measure of amount. Weight is a measure of the force of gravity pulling an object. Mass is the same regardless of gravity.

To determine the speed of an object when it hits the ground. One needs to manipulate the equation for acceleration.

Ending speed = √2(acceleration * distance)

Momentum is the force necessary to stop and object from moving.

Momentum = mass * velocity

Practice problem

Janet Adamson is writing about the speed of a train, which commonly passes through Elrond University’s campus. The train’s acceleration at full throttle is .3 miles per hour per second. If the train is already moving 30 mph, and accelerating at full throttle for 3 minutes, how fast will it be going?

Chapter 10: area measurement

Knowing how to express measurements in an accurate and clear way is vital to good journalism. Analogies are a great way for illustrating measurements that may be otherwise meaningless, but analogies sometimes fail when exact measurements are essential.

Premature of a rectangle           

Perimeter = (2 * length) + (2 * width)

Area of a rectangle

Area = length * width

Area of a triangle

Area = .5 base * height

Small spaces are measured in square inches or square feet. Larger areas, such as parking lots, are measured in square feet, square yards or square rods.

144 inches = 1 square foot

9 square feet = 1 square yard

30 square yards = 1 square rod

160 square rods = 1 acre

1 acre = 43,560

640 = 1 square mile

The radius of a circle is the distance from any edge to the middle. Knowing the radius is key to finding the circumference, or the distance around. Knowing the radius is also necessary to find the area of a circle.

Circumference = 2Pi * radius

Area = Pi * radius2

Practice problem

Elrond University’s quidditch field is 120 yards long with two end zones of 5 yards each and a width of 75 yards. What is the field’s parameter and area?

Chapter 11: volume measurements

Volume measurements play a key role in many articles, especially on the business beat.

Rectangular solid

Volume = length * width * height

Common liquid conversion

2 tablespoons = 1 fluid ounce

½ pint = 8 ounces, or 1 cup

1 pint = 16 ounces, or two cups

2 pints (32 ounces) = 1 quart

2 quarts (64 ounces) = ½ gallon

4 quarts (128 ounces) = 1 gallon

1 U.S. standard barrel = 31.5 gallons

1 U.S. gallon = 4/5 Imperial gallon

British or Canadian barrel = 36 Imperial gallons


A cord is commonly used to measure firewood, and is defined as 128 cubic feet.


There are three different types of tons. A short ton is 2000 pounds. The British ton is the long ton, which is 2240 pounds. There is also a third type of ton called the metric ton, equal to 1000 kilograms, or 2204.62 pounds.

Practice problem

A famous book of college reviews sent one of their workers to Elrond University to measure the size of a student dorm room. The rectangular room is 8 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet. How many cubic feet is the dorm room?

Chapter 12: the metric system

Outside the United States, most of the world uses the metric system for nearly every type of measurement. The unit names are meter (length), gram (mass) and liter (volume).

Length (metric) U.S.
1 millimeter [mm] 0.03937 in
1 centimeter [cm] 10 mm 0.3937 in
1 meter [m] 100 cm 1.0936 yd
1 kilometer [km] 1000 m 0.6214 mile
Area (metric) U.S.
1 sq cm [cm2] 100 mm2 0.1550 in2
1 sq m [m2] 10,000 cm2 1.1960 yd2
1 hectare [ha] 10,000 m2 2.4711 acres
1 sq km [km2] 100 ha 0.3861 mile2
Volume/ Capacity (metric) U.S.
1 cu cm [cm3] 0.0610 in3
1 cu decimeter [dm3] 1,000 cm3 0.0353 ft3
1 cu meter [m3] 1,000 dm3 1.3080 yd3
1 liter [l] 1 dm3 2.113 fluid pt
Mass (metric)   U.S.
1 milligram [mg] 0.0154 grain
1 gram [g] 1,000 mg 0.0353 oz
1 kilogram [kg] 1,000 g 2.2046 lb


(1.8 * °C ) + 32 = °F

.56 * (°F – 32) = °C

Practice problem

 While studying abroad, Janet Adamson was asked to cook her host family dinner. She needs approximately 3 pounds of flower to bake dessert. Will a 1 kg bag be enough? Why or why not?


An overview of Kathleen Wickham’s ‘Math Tools for Journalists,’ chapters 5–8

Chapter 5: polls and surveys

It is a reporter’s job to help an audience understand the accuracy of polls and surveys. Polls are an estimate of public opinion on a single topic or question.

Polls are most frequently used in politics and based on the representative samples. Surveys are also based on representative samples, but include a multitude of questions. These are usually used in the social sciences.


A valid sample is large enough to represent the population that is being considered. Pollsters usually Aim for at least 400 interviews to keep the margin of error within acceptable limits.

Untitled Infographic-21

Margin of error indicates the degree of accuracy of the research based on standard norms. Margin of error is expressed as a percentage and is based on the size of a randomly selected sample. Margin of error refers to a percentage of the actual polled number, not the percentage of the result.

Confidence level is the level or percentage at which researchers have confidence in the results of their research.

Adjusted figures are figures that are statistically manipulated to compensate for missing data.

Z-scores and t- scores

Journalists should have a basic understanding of z-scores and t-scores, which are often used in reporting the results of studies. A z-score, sometimes called a standard score, shows how much a particular figure differs from the mean:

Z score = (raw score – mean) / Standard deviation

The t-score, sometimes called student’s t-distribution, is closely related to z-scores. The t-score is used when the sample size is small, roughly 100 or fewer.

Practice Problem

A senior undergraduate conducting independent research at Elrond University wants to find out how many students on campus attend some religious service on a weekly basis. Select one of the five sampling methods and justify your answer.

Chapter 6: business

Business news is often big news, and this beat especially utilizes a great deal of math. Large corporations usually report earnings and results quarterly, though more detailed information, including financial statements, can be found in annual reports.

Profit and loss

The profit and loss statement, commonly called P&L, shows whether a company is making money by subtracting expenses from income. “Cost of goods sold” refers to the direct expense a business incurs by making or buying products. “Overhead” refers to the expenses not directly related to the product being made. The difference between the “cost of goods sold” and the selling price is considered the “gross margin.”

EBITDA stands for “earning before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization” – this is also known as “operational cash flow.”

Gross margin = selling price – cost of goods sold

Gross profit = gross margin * number of items sold

Net profit = gross margin – overhead

Balance sheets

A balance sheet is a written financial statement of a company’s assets, liabilities and equity. The asset side of the balance sheet always equals the liabilities and equity side. Assets are resources owned by a company that have some economic value. Current assets include cash, investments and other liquid items of value. Long-term assets include buildings, office furniture, etc. Equity means the value of the company, and normally refers to the owners and shareholders investments in the company, capital accounts and other related assets. Liabilities are obligations, such as the loans, that need to be paid at some other date.

Assets = liabilities + equity

Ratio analysis

Ratios are calculations that analysts and business owners used to evaluate the company’s cash situation, Probability, operating efficiency and market value.

Current ratio = current assets / current liabilities

Quick ratio is a liquidity ratio that measures the ability of a company to meet its current liabilities with cash on hand.

Quick ratio = cash / current liabilities

Debt-to-asset ratio is similar to current ratio, except it includes all assets and all liabilities.

Debt-to-asset = total debt / equity

Return on total assets is a profitability ratio that measures return on the investment on all assets.

Return to assets = net income / total assets

Return on equity is a probability ratio that measures to return on the investment made equity.

Return on equity = net income / equity

Price-earnings ratio is a value ratio that measures the return of the investment based on stock price.

Price-earnings = market price / earnings

Practice Problem

Elrond University buys 1,500 bushels of pine straw from Gardenz Wholesale Co. at $5 a ton. Elrond uses 800 bushels to maintain its pristine flowerbeds. President Lampoon wants to get rid of the excess pine straw. He offers it to Low Point University for $15 a bushel. Low Point has always admired Elrond University’s superior taste in ascetics and gladly accepts. What was Elrond’s gross margin on the sale?

Chapter 7: stocks and bonds 


Corporations sell stocks to raise cash, and people buy stocks as investments. When an individual buys a share of stock in a company, he or she becomes a partial owner of that company. The value of the company’s stock varies based on its demand.

Mutual funds are an alternative way to invest in stocks. Mutual fund companies sell shares of funds, and then use that money to buy stock in other companies.

Newspapers typically publish a stock table. In a stock table, “div” represents the most recent annual dividend that the company paid to shareholders, “PE” represents the price/earnings ratio, “last” represents the price of one share at the end of the previous day, and “change” represents how much the stock price went up or down that day.


A bond is a loan from an investor to the government or another organization selling the bond. Unlike stocks, bonds earn interest at a set rate and are generally low risk investments. The face value of the bond is the amount that the bondholder will receive at maturity. The value of the bond on the open market fluctuates with supply and demand. The bonds current yield is its return on the investment, which therefore also fluctuates.

Current yield = (interest rate * face value) / price

Bond cost is the actual cost of a bond issued by a multiplicity.

Bond cost (interest) = amount * rate * years

Market indexes

Stock indexes track the price of certain groups of socks, allowing investors to get a snapshot of overall market conditions. Dow Jones & Co. is able to provide a snapshot of the entire stock market by monitoring the value of 30 key stocks.

NASDAQ is an acronym for the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations. It is a subsidiary of the National Association of Securities Dealers and is monitored by the Securities and Exchange Commission. NASDAQ is an automated quotation system that reports on trading of domestic stocks and bonds not listed on the stock market.

Practice problem

Janet Adamson, reporter for Elrond Daily News, noted that members of a local investment club paid $8,000 for a bond with a $9,500 face value and a 5 percent interest rate. What’s the bond’s current yeild?

Chapter 8: property taxes

Property taxes are the largest single source of income for local governments and certain other municipal organizations. The property tax rate is determined by taking the total amount of money that the governing body needs and dividing that among the property owners in that taxing district. How much each owner pays is based on the value of his or her property.

Property taxes are measured in units called mills. A mill is one-tenth of a cent. Property taxes are expressed in terms of mills levied for each dollar of the assessed valuation of the property.

Property is often taxed by more than one governing body – to prevent local governments from playing games with the tax rate, state officials often regulate the process.

Mill levy = Taxes to be collected by the government body / assessed valuation of all property in the taxing district

Assessed value and appraisal value

Property taxes do not apply to the actual price of a home on the open market. The assessed value is a percentage of market value and depends on local policies.

Assessed value = appraisal value * rate

The appraisal updates real property values to reflect current market values of all taxable properties within a taxing district, as some neighborhoods fluctuate in value over time.

The percentage used to calculate the assessed value of a property might differ based on the type of property. Appraisal value is based on the property’s use and characteristics, current market conditions as determined by sales in the immediate area over time, and an official inspection of the property.

Calculating tax

Tax owed = tax rate * (assessed value of property / $100)

Divide the assessed value by $1,000, rather than $100, if the rate is based on an amount per $1,000 of assessed value.

Practice problem

The tax rate for the Town of Elrond for next year is $1.05 per $100 assessed value. If the house owned by Leopold Lampoon has an assessed value of $1,000,000, how much will he pay in taxes?

An overview of Kathleen Wickham’s ‘Math Tools for Journalists,’ chapters 1–4

by Dalton Cox

Chapter one: the language of numbers

Journalists committed to precision in reporting need to understand the language of numbers. A good place to begin is by checking the math of one’s sources – look for implausible numbers that may have been altered to give a false impression. Numerical literacy among journalists will signal to audiences the importance of numeracy.

Style Tips

It is best to consult the Associated Press Stylebook when questions arise concerning cardinal numbers.

Generally, spell out numbers below 10 and use figures for numbers above 10, but spell the words cents, million, billion, trillion, ect. When referring to money, use numerals ($5 million, 1.9 billion tons of gummy bears).

Generally rounding numbers is preferred, but not in all cases. Check the AP Stylebook. Spell out fractions less than one.

For ordinal numbers, spell first through ninth and use numerals for 10th and above.

Never begin a sentence with a number, unless indicating a year.

If an organization uses a number in their name, follow the corporate style in writing your story.

Untitled Infographic-20

Numbers are always used for addresses, dates, highways, percentages, speeds, temperatures, time and weight. AP Style indicates that ages are expressed with figures, but this can vary if a publication uses a different stylebook.

Use the word minus, not a dash or hyphen, to avoid confusion.

Right out numbers in a slang expression (thanks a million).

In a series, retain the appropriate style for each entry.

Chapter two: percentages

Often figures are expressed more clearly if conveyed as percentages. By providing an accurate representation of such a percentage, a reporter is helping an audience better grasp an issue.

Percentage increase/ decrease

Percentage increase/ decrease = (new figure – old figure)/ old figure

Convert the percentage by moving the decimal point two places to the right.

Example: Elon Secondary School reduced its donation to the City Squirrel Sanctuary from $4,000 to $600. By what percentage was the donation cut?

600 – 4,000 = -3,400

-3,400/ 4,000 = -0.85

The donation was cut by 85 percent. Poor squirrels.

Percentage of a whole

Percentage of a whole = subgroup/ whole group

Move the decimal point two points to the right.

Low Point University spends $1.5 million on its badminton team. The entire athletic department budget is $4 million. What percentage of the budget does the badminton team consume?

1.5 million/ 4 million = .375 = 37.5 percent

Or About 38 percent. That’s a lot of shuttlecocks.

Percentage points

It’s important to distinguish between percentage and percentage point. One percent is one one-hundredth of something. A percentage point may be a different amount.

(new figure – old figure) – old figure = change in percentage POINTS

(change in percentage points)/old figure = PERCENTAGE changed

Simple/annual interest

The amount of money borrowed is called principal. The amount of money paid for the use of principal is called interest.

Interest = principal * rate (as a decimal) * time (in years)

Compounding interest

Compounding means interest is added to the original principal and subsequent compoundings apply the interest to the principal plus the interest of the previous compoundings.

A = monthly payment

P = original loan amount

R = interest rate, expressed as a decimal and divided by 12

N = total number of months

A = [P x (1 + R)^N* x R]/[(1 + R)^N – 1]

*^N refers to ‘N’ to the power of, which means that the result inside the bracket is multiplied N number of times.

Practice Problem

The salary of University President Leopold Lampoon was raised from $35,000 to $110,300. What percentage increase was the president’s raise?

Chapter three: statistics

After percentages, the most common numbers that a reporter will likely encounter are statistics. Sources can easily manipulate statistics, so an accurate understanding of the material is essential to informing readers of the truth.

The mean is the sum of all figures in that group, divided by the total number of figures. The median refers to the midway point in a grouping of numbers. The mode is the number appearing most frequent among a set of numbers.

A percentile is a number representing the percentage of scores that falls at or below a designated score. This is often calculated in the occurrence of test taking, such as in reporting on SAT results.

Percentile rank = (number of people at or below an individual score)/ (number of test takers)

This can easily be reversed to tell the number of people who scored at or below a certain point, if you want to know the percentile rank:

Number of people scored at or below that level = (percentile) * (number of test takers)

Standard Deviation

Standard deviation indicates how much a group of figures varies from the norm. A small deviation indicates that figures are grouped around the mean, while a high deviation shows inconsistent results.

To find standard deviation:

Subtract the mean from each score in the distribution.

Square the resulting number for each score in the set.

Calculate the mean for each of these numbers. The result of this is referred to as the variance.

Find the square root of the variance.


Probability boils down to a ratio.

For Example: The Cox Institute for Made-Up Statistics reports that nearly 2,500 Americans die from quicksand incidents each day. There are about 290 million people in the united States, so the odds of dying in a quicksand incident would be:

2,500 deaths / 290 million people = .0000086

To describe such a probability, divide one by this number:

1 / .0000086 = 116,000

So the odds of dying in a quicksand incident (based on this made-up data) is “one out of 116,000”

Some probability issues are cleaner. Winning the lottery for example is pure chance. Formula used for lottery probability:

Odds of a series of events = Odds of first event * odds of second event * odds of third event, etc.

O = odds

N = number of events

O^N = odds of a series when each is the same

Practice Problem:

In her class, Janet Andrews scored in the 40th percentile on the ACT test.

There are 50 students in her class.

Only the top 30 students will receive the school’s illustrious smarty-pants plaque.

Will Janet receive this distinguished award?

Chapter four: federal statistics

The government provides a constant stream of information of interest to the public. It is important that journalists understand the origin of these numbers and how these numbers are used.


Every month, the U.S. Department of Labor issues a report on unemployment in the United States. The unemployment rate is defined by the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed and actively seeking work.

Unemployment rate = (unemployed/ labor force) x 100

Inflation and Consumer Price Index

U.S. inflation is measured by the Consumer Price Index, which shows the amount of inflation in any given month for eight major product groups: food and beverage, housing, appeal, transportation and recreation. This calculation is determined by a series of surveys on the spending habits of a sample of about 30,000 U.S. families and individuals.

Monthly Inflation Rate = (Current CPI – Prior Month CPI)/ Prior Month CPI * 100

Annual inflation rate

A = Annual Inflation Rate

B = Current month CPI

C = CPI from same month in previous year

A = (B – C) / C * 100

Inflation calculator

A = Target year value, in dollars

B = Starting year value, in dollars

AC = Target year CPI

BC = Starting year CPI

A = (B / BC) * AC

Monthly compounding inflation rate formula

C = cost after one year

K = original cost

I = inflation rate

C = K (1 + [I / 12] ) ^12

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

GDP is the value of goods and services produced by a nation’s economy.

C = consumer spending on goods and services

I = investment spending

G = government spending

NX = net exports (exports minus imports)

GDP = C + I + G + NX

Trade balance

The trade balance is the difference between the goods and services that a country exports to foreign countries, and its imports from abroad:

Trade balance = Exports – imports

Practice Problem:

In 1999, the Republic of Narnia exported $55.4 billion worth of fine wine and imported $16.8 billion worth. What was the trade balance in fine wine?

Children seek immigration status in North Carolina

Photo by Dalton Cox
Photo by Dalton Cox

by Dalton Cox

She lived in world’s murder capital

A year ago, Miriam was a 13-year-old living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras – reportedly the murder capital of the world. She would never have dreamed back then that she would be living in Durham, North Carolina, today.

At the time it was a daily struggle for her simply to attend school. She was harassed each morning by menacing gang members she could not avoid along the way. She finally resorted to taking a taxi to the private school she attended in San Pedro Sula.

Though the final stretch of her daily commute still had to be made on foot, Miriam would then likely encounter only one group of thugs before reaching her refuge. The threatening men had made a target of Miriam, often claiming they might murder her or take her as one of their wives.

Miriam knew that the gangsters’ threats were not all hollow. Two of her cousins had been members of rival gangs. As retribution for this genetic disloyalty, gangsters murdered the wives of each cousin, leaving the two men to their grief.

Hensley. Photo by Dalton Cox
Hensley. Photo by Dalton Cox

“I’ve worked on a number of cases where the gang threats have stopped children from going to school,” said Derrick Hensley, the attorney handling Miriam’s immigration case. “I’m really surprised Miriam didn’t stop going – at least, she didn’t stop going until the time that led to her coming to the United States.”

In 2013, San Pedro Sula had a homicide rate of 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. In April 2014, the city experienced a surge in child murders – Miriam had known several of these victims. Feeling increasingly threatened by gang violence, Miriam decided to risk the journey to the United States to be reunited with her mother, Sophia.

She almost did not survive.

Thousands of undocumented children still wait in North Carolina

Miriam is one of thousands of undocumented alien children who crossed into the United States during the immigration surge of the summer of 2014. They traveled primarily from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. She was also one of 53,518 unaccompanied minors released by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to sponsors in the United States between October 2013 and September 2014; 2,064 of those children were released to sponsors in North Carolina.

A sponsor is a parent or guardian capable of housing and providing for a child awaiting an immigration hearing. Approximately 10 percent of children who cannot identify a sponsor are placed in to federal foster care.

To maintain lawful status to reside in the United States, children typically must prove their eligibility for either asylum or special immigrant juvenile status. If children are unable to make out their claim, then they generally are unable to stay in the United States.


“I think that saying that these children are receiving due process might be presumptive,” said Heather Scavone, director of the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic (HILC) at the Elon University School of Law. “There have been instances of in absentia deportation orders for some of these kids when they have not been put on notice that they have a hearing. Also, unless they are able to pay for an attorney they don’t have a constitutional right to counsel in the same way criminal defendants do – so you have in some cases, a 9-year-old child who has to defend himself in court without an attorney.”

If a child is exceedingly fortunate, the Office of Refugee Resettlement may refer him or her to a non-profit organization that can offer social services casework or pro bono legal service.

One such organization is the Elon University School of Law’s HILC. It primarily works with individuals who have already been granted asylum or refugee status in navigating the immigration bureaucracy; however, Scavone recently traveled with several students to a Texas detainment center to provide philanthropic service.

“The work the clinic does here is pretty unique,” said Marty Rosenbluth, clinical practitioner in residence at HILC. “The reason we got involved in the immigration surge was out of broader concern for the issue.”

Another one of several organizations that provide casework for undocumented alien children in North Carolina is the social ministry organization Lutheran Services Carolinas. LSC increased its casework in 2014, from assisting approximately 50 undocumented alien children to now handling 84 cases.

“Their route to staying in the United States probably becomes much better the point where they gain advocates,” said Mary Ann Johnson, director of community relations for Lutheran Services. “They get pretty good care and are looked after.”

Photo by Dalton Cox
Photo by Dalton Cox

Bedrija Jazic is the director of refugee services at LSC. When Jazic fled Bosnia in 1996, she was in her 20s.

She explained that in the cases of refugees LSC only takes on cases referred by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and all must be individuals at high risk. This risk may broadly encompass anything from physical abuse to posttraumatic stress-like symptoms.

“I cannot say it’s a fair process, because of the costs that this involves,” Jazic said. “I would think that we should provide more post-relief services and take care of more of the kids who are received.” 

Miriam held for ransom, finally reaches refuge 

Sophia had left Honduras in 2003. She fled in part from Miriam’s father. He was an abuser who had thrown bottles of beer in to Sophia’s face at parties, an addict who had once held a loaded gun to Sophia’s head and a member of Honduran military who would stalk and threaten Sophia after she left him.

“It is pretty well established that you can’t call the police on a member of the military or else you’re likely to get shot or put away somewhere,” Hensley said.

When Sophia sought sanctuary in the United States she left toddler Miriam in the care of relatives in San Pedro Sula. Sophia regularly sent her family financial support from abroad, but a decade passed before she would be reunited with her daughter in the United States.

Before Miriam could cross the Rio Grande, members of the Mexican criminal syndicate Los Zetas abducted her, along with several other migrants, to be held for ransom.

“They closed their eyes, so they wouldn’t see people coming and going,” Hensley said. “They heard people getting executed, and there were dead people lying about. They heard gunshots, and they were blindfolded or had their eyes covered. They could only leave the room to go to the bathroom.”

Sophia was contacted and asked to pay $3,300 for her daughter’s release. Miriam was held captive for three weeks, until her mother’s payment was received in full.

When Miriam finally reached the United States, she was taken in to the custody of the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and placed in a frigid holding cell – often referred to as the hielera, or icebox.

Now in the land of the free, Miriam’s body relinquished its strength. She was having trouble breathing. The teenager began to cough up blood and developed a serious fever. Eventually, her condition would cause her to slip in to a comma.

Undocumented children struggle to be ‘productive citizens’ in North Carolina

In July 2014, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory joined the Republican governors of Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin in signing a letter of concern, sent to President Barack Obama, regarding the border surge.

“We are concerned that there will be significant numbers who will end up using the public schools, social services and health systems largely funded by the states,” the governors wrote in arguing against the intake of too many refugees.

Derrick Hensley takes argument with this logic.

“It’s not widely disproportionate to our overall population,” Hensley said. “Durham has almost 250,000 residents, and we got about 200 unaccompanied alien children. That’s less than one tenth of one percent. It’s a highly vulnerable and needy population, but it’s sort of remarkable that people are worried that these children will bring the plague, that this is upsetting our economy, that this is a threat to our national security.”

Number of unaccompanied minors in states compared to state population. Based on information taken from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement and the U.S. Census Bureau. Click to enlarge. Infographic by Dalton Cox
Number of unaccompanied minors in states compared to state population. Based on information taken from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement and the U.S. Census Bureau. Click to enlarge. Infographic by Dalton Cox

Receiving mental health care and making up any educational deficit are two elements that Hensley considers to be foundationally important once children have settled in the United States.

Though it is illegal to deny children public education based on their immigration status, several reports were made in 2014 of North Carolina school districts allegedly denying undocumented children the right to enroll.

“It’s difficult to know the scope of the problem,” said Matt Ellinwood, a policy analyst for the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project. “What’s exceptionally common was substantial delays in the process. We call it the chilling effect.”

“Chilling” describes the systematic barriers that undocumented alien children encounter when attempting to enroll in school or to receive health services. For instance, it can be especially difficult for migrant children to provide proof of residence when registering for school. Such inabilities to provide correct documentation generally take one month before they can be resolved.

“It’s extremely difficult and costly to provide the remediation needed to move people ahead,” Ellinwood said. “There’s no way to get back that time that is lost, when you face that kind of delay. The children have every right to be in school. We want to get them educated and to get them to be as productive citizens as they can be. The earlier we can get them enrolled, the more it’s going to help.”

In May 2014, the U.S. Justice and Education Departments provided updated guidelines to deter the chilling effect. These seem to have reduced the number of complaints made against North Carolina schools for denying undocumented children enrollment.

Ellinwood believes that, despite logistical tangles and deficits of individual education, the children are generally socially accepted by their classmates.


“These children always amaze me with how much more excepting they are than adults are,” Ellinwood said. “They’re extremely welcoming from what I’ve seen, and I’ve never heard of any negative incidents. Many migrant children are coming into the United States with better English language skills, so they’re better integrated than in years past.”

While these young people are extensively disadvantaged and face various mental health repercussions due to their challenging lives, Hensley said most unaccompanied alien children are capable of resilient progress, provided some resources. Hensley is typically in close contact with unaccompanied alien children and their families for about a year, while providing them legal service.

“I do see a change in the children over that time,” Hensley said. “They’re healthier. They’re happier. All of them attend school and make good progress eventually. Most of them tend to try very hard.”

Daughter and mother reunited in home of the brave 

Miriam spent five days in a hospital when she finally reached the United States.

When Sophia finally arrived at the hospital where Miriam was receiving care she was not allowed to see her daughter immediately because of immigration policies.

Today mother and daughter live together in Durham. Since fleeing Honduras Sophia has remarried and had two children, both of whom are United States citizens. Miriam is currently continuing her secondary education, and she is seeking special immigrant juvenile status.

To protect the individuals, the actual names of Miriam and Sophia were not used in this article.

‘The Classics’ – From Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan’s ‘America’s Best Newspaper Writing’

by Dalton Cox

The American Society of Newspaper Editors did not inaugurate its Distinguished Writing Award until 1977. Needless to say, many articles written prior to this year have made the transition from newsprint to the pages of history books, due to their revolutionary rhetoric and impact. Clark and Scanlan selected the following works as “The Classics.”

by Dalton Cox
by Dalton Cox

In 1943 William Allen White was the most famous small-town news publisher in the United States. Usually a political reporter, White wrote in 1921 the obituary for his daughter, Mary White, and provided a moving example of how newspaper writing can transcend the concerns of daily life and strike at universal cord. White retells the story of the girl’s fatal horse riding accident, while weaving in details of her upbringing. He also juxtaposes her social charm against her serious and passionate civil rights advocacy. Similarly Ernie Pyle’s 1944 “The Death of Captain Waskow” demonstrates masterful obituary writing by emphasizing only what is essential; aspiring journalists should consider what was left intentionally unsaid. Pyle also demonstrates that the first, second and third person voices may all be used successfully in journalism, though unusual writing style requires purpose, skill and trust.

According to William E. Blundell the six building blocks for news writers are scope, history, impact, reasons, gathering and action of contrary forces, and the future. These blocks are all obviously considered in Lorena A. Hickok’s 1923 deadline classic “Iowa Village Waits All Night For Glimpse of Fleeting Train.” The train was carrying the body of President Warren G. Harding. Hickok not only explains the scenario but illustrates the atypical cultural environment of the citizens of a rural Iowan town, dying as a result of highway relocation.

Harold A. Littledale wrote for the New York Evening Post, in which appeared his 1917 “Prisoners with a Midnight in Their Hearts.” Littledale’s article begins much like an opinion column but defends itself with factual horrors surrounding the living conditions at the New Jersey State Penitentiary. Littledale shows how repetition and rhythm can emphasize the theme of a story and make a story’s conclusion inescapable. The majority of his one-sentence paragraphs begin by asserting, “it is a fact…” These facts are damning, shining light on starvation, torture, sexual abuse and dangerously unsanitary conditions.

It is a fact that a youth was released in December who came to the prison a boy of thirteen years wearing short trousers,” Littledale writes.

Not only did Littledale’s work enact reform in the prison, but it also won him a Pulitzer Prize.


Red Smith wrote as a sportswriter for the New York Harold Tribune, and published in 1951 “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.” The related baseball game between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers aided in both canonizing and destroying two players, and became the stuff of legend and superstition.

“When I was very young as a sportswriter I knowingly and unashamedly imitated others… by what process I have no idea, your own writing tends to crystallize, to take shape,” Smith said. “Yet you have to learn some moves from all these guys and they are somehow incorporated in to your own style. Pretty soon you’re not imitating any longer.”

Meyer Berger’s 1959 “About New York” was a column that humanized The New York Times’ hometown. On January 23, 1959, Berger looked in to the life and soul of Laurence Stroetz, a poverty-stricken, elderly man who had once played violin in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In the article, lyrical language depicts moments a great beauty while still being evocative. For example, Berger concludes:


“The white-clad nun said: ‘it’s your violin, Mr. Stroetz. It’s a gift.’ The old man bent his head over it. He wept.”

Untold stories and stifled voices exist everywhere. The great writer struggles out of self-censorship to examine difficult truths and to expose them. Authority, created by dogged reporting, can create political furor and enact change.

Famed African-American author Richard Wright once wrote for the columnist publication New Masses. Wright’s recollection of the night an African American boxer beat a white competitor not only recalls the effects of the boxing match in the Chicago streets, but also analyzes the underlying social injustices and the hope for progress.

“Here’s a fleeting glimpse at the heart of the Negro, the heart that beats and suffers and hopes for freedom,” writes Wright. “Here’s the fluid something that’s like an iron. Here’s the real dynamic that Joe Louis uncovered.”

Marvel Cooke was the only black person and only woman on the staff of New York’s short-lived Daily Compass. In 1950 she wrote “The Bronx Slave Market,” which gave an undercover account of the conditions faced by the African-American women who waited on the New York streets to be chosen for daily domestic labor.

“Suddenly I was angry – angry at this slave boss – angry for all workers everywhere who were treated like a commodity,” writes Cooke.


In 1963 editor Gene Patterson wrote for The Atlanta Constitution, “A Flower for the Graves,” depicting domestic terrorism fueled by racial violence in the segregated Southeast. Patterson was writing at his own risk, publishing the article in the Georgia publication. The story repeatedly makes us of the pronoun “we.” Beginning nearly every paragraph with an all-inclusive message for all Caucasian readers to accept their cultural blame and enact change. Patterson is a master of imagery; he begins the article with a repeated image of “one shoe,” a murdered child’s small shoe held by the victim’s mother. The shoe becomes a reoccurring image throughout, a humanizing symbol of sadistic oppression.

Journalism can be both daunting and dangerous; however, journalism may also change the face of culture and politics. Journalist must be therefore be ethical in their craft, always attempting to enlighten and protect the citizens of a free state.


Dorothy Thompson’s 1938 “Mr. Welles and Mass Destruction” analyzes for the New York Harold Tribune Orson Welles’ historic radio play that threw some martian-fearing Americans in to frenzy. The role of journalist is to educate their audience and nurture their critical thinking skills. Thompson emphasizes how many Americans lack such skepticism and warns against widespread media’s ability to control the susceptible masses.

“They have shown up the incredible stupidity, lack of nerve and ignorance of thousands,” Thompson writes.

Because of such susceptibility, Paolo Freire explains that the role of education and journalism is to nurture  a critical literacy in citizens, keeping them free, empowered and protected from tyranny of corruption.

Some other potential “classics”

Nellie Bly’s “Ten Days in a Mad House” has become a stable of a journalist’s education, as well as a facet of popular American folklore. Despite some ethical tactics that would most likely be inappropriate in contemporary journalism, Bly’s article provides an example of journalism undertaken for social reform.

“GOP Security Aide Among Five Arrested in Bugging Affair” was the fist of a series of articles written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as a result of their investigation in to the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post. These articles not only shape American history, but provided a quintessential example of fearless watchdog journalism.

The Death of Rodriguez by Richard Harding Davis provides an excellent example of descriptive journalism depicting the death of a Cuban rebel. Davis became one of America’s highest paid reporters at the end of the ninetieth century, covering many stories related to the Spanish-American War.

Journalist Alice Su visits Elon to lecture on Middle Eastern Refugees

by Dalton Cox

From March 12-13 Elon University hosted Jordan-based journalist Alice Su as a guest lecturer. Su is a 23-year-old graduate of Princeton University and Pulitzer Center grantee, who reports on the experiences of asylum seekers in Jordan and Lebanon. Elon’s School of Communications and the Pulitzer Center co-sponsored the event.

Alice Su lectures at Elon University
Alice Su lectures at Elon University, photo by Dalton Cox

Currently, Jordan houses over 620,000 Syrian refugees. Su puts this statistic in perspective, comparing Jordan’s immigration surge to the hypothetical migration of Canada’s entire population into the United States.

Su’s lecture, entitled “Interim Lives: Refugee survival in Jordan and Lebanon,” gave a broad overview of what she has learned as a young journalist working with refugees. The presentation detailed the unyielding challenges and small triumphs met by these alienated people, incorporating humanizing firsthand accounts. One example included the story of a destitute family attempting to celebrate Ramadan for the benefit of their young child.

Su originally relocated to the Middle East after graduating Princeton in 2013 to complete two intensive Arabic language programs. She then began interning in Jordan with a small radio station, translating investigative reports from Arabic to English. Su did not want to teach English, so she began freelance writing to earn an income. Her first story was for The Atlantic Magazine about the Jordan-China fair, an exposition for Chinese commercial products trying to break in to the Middle Eastern market.

“I pushed this because I thought, I’m probably the only person who can write this story because I speak Arabic and Chinese,” Su said. “To my surprise they took the story. Eventually I realized I could sustain myself off my stories, and all of them at first were just cold pitches.”

Su’s persistence paid off. Today she has produced articles for such media sources as The Guardian, Wired and Al Jazeera. Through such extensive professional reporting, however, Su has had to cope with a sense of helplessness that comes with crisis reporting.

“I think I had an inclination to go to the Middle East with a kind of savior complex,” Su said. “I thought, maybe I’ll just write about the problems, and things will get better – or maybe if I write enough stories, then the refugee crisis will stop – or maybe if I write a book, the Syrians will stop fighting. It’s very humbling to see the scale of the conflicts that are going on and to see the scale of suffering, and to feel like I can’t fix it.”

Su has also come to understand what can continue to drive a reporter, despite the despair made evident by firsthand reporting of a crisis.

“If I think about what drives me in reporting and writing, it’s not so much anymore but I’m going to save this region,” Su said. “I just want to understand it. I feel like just doing that is enough.”

Video by Dalton Cox

The Profile and Feature Story – From Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan’s ‘America’s Best Newspaper Writing’

by Dalton Cox

What we today know as the human-interest story evolved out of turn-of-the-twentieth-century “yellow journalism.”

“A cynical school of thought would have us believe that journalists are exploiters of their sources, that they ultimately violent their confidence for the sake of an interesting story,” Clark and Scanlan write. The writers here have a different reputation. They are curious, persistent, energetic and empathetic… They honor the privilege of access my room during the lives of their subjects with fairness and honesty thoroughness and courtesy.”

Modern journalists are able to serve an audience best if they are able to be a versatile writer, constructing long and short pieces about news and people, about facts experience, for both newspapers and new media.

Untitled Infographic-11
Infographic by Dalton Cox

Cynthia Gorney won the 1980 ASNE award for her Washington Post article “Dr. Seuss: Wild Orchestrator of Plausible Nonsense for Kids.” Gorney was 26-years-old.

“You have to know five times as much as you’re ever going to use in the story,” Cynthia Gorney said.

Another key to successful journalism is an editor’s faith in his or her report’s ability to eventually produce impeccable writing.

The building blocks of profile writing: detail, observation, telling an antidote, revealing question, testimony of friends and family, biography, history, reading and research.

“You have to read a lot,” Gorney said. “And when you find a writer or you love, you read everything you can get your hands on by that writer.”

Gorney’s profile piece concentrated on the famed writer of children’s books Theodore Seuss Geisel. The article is laden with tremendous detail:

“The drawings, manuscripts, and have formed-doodles of Dr. Seuss (who did not officially become a doctor until 1956, when Dartmouth College made him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters), are kept in locked stacks of the Special Collections division of the UCLA library,” Gorney writes.

Cynthia Gorney
Cynthia Gorney

Saul Pett was a special correspondent for the Associated Press when he won the 1981 ASNE award for his profile “Koch Grabs Big Apple and Shakes It.” Pett’s piece profiles New York City mayor Ed Koch, while simultaneously capturing a slice of the cultural climate. Pett demonstrates how a variation of sentence length and structure may set the pace and rhythm for the reader. Furthermore, antidotes need not be sparse; however, any antidote must advance the reader’s understanding of a subject.

Mirta Ojito was a New York Times reporter who returned to Cuba in 1998, after having fled the country 18 years prior. Though she originally returned to report on the visit of Pope John Paul II, the result of her visit was an illustrative features piece that was printed on the front page of the New York Times. Like Gorney, Ojito utilizes a vast amount of detail:

“My home remains practically as we left it, seemingly frozen in time, like much of Cuba today,” Ojito writes. “The Jiménez family now lives in the house. He is a truck driver, just as my father was. They have a 15-year-old son who sleeps on the sofa bed in the living room, just as my sister and I did.”

Mirta Ojito
Mirta Ojito

David Finkel was a reporter for the St. Petersberg (Fla.) Times when he won the 1986 ASNE award for non-deadline writing. His piece “For Lerro, Skyward Nightmare Never Ends” profiles John Lerro, the captain who accidentally steered his tanker into the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, resulting in the deaths of 35 people. David Finkel reminds journalists to practice the unnatural acts of listening. His work reflects the most simple and most noble of goals: “the point is just to tell a nice story.”

Tommy Tomlinson’s 2003 “A Beautiful Find,” written for The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, traces mathematician John Nash’s quest to solve an equation. The article is formatted a series of three questions and answers. Tomlinson accordingly relies on metaphors throughout.

According to Tommy Tomlinson quotations “really have to have some deep insight… or move the story forward in a really compelling way even better and faster than I could.”

Blaine Harden’s “Life, Death, and Corruption on an African mainstream,” published by The Washington Post in 1987, takes readers down a river and through Zaire, illustrating through detail and antidotes the bureaucratic corruption and poverty faced by the African state. Harden reminds writers to spend a tremendous amount of time revising a story.

Other excellent examples of features writing

“A wicked wind takes aim” by Julia Keller for the Chicago Tribune – This weather story won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for features writing. Keller reconstructs in scrupulous detail the events surrounding a 10-second tornado that devastated Utica, Illinois one day in late April.

“The girl in the window” by Lane DeGregory for the St. Petersburg Times of Tampa Bay, Florida – DeGregory provides in striking detail the circumstances of a previously neglected child, who is given a chance for a new life when adopted by a compassionate family.

“Pearls Before Breakfast” by Gene Weingarten for The Washington PostThis Pulitzer-Prize-winning story observes an experiment, as musical prodigy Joshua Bell plays the violin in a Washington D.C. subway station.