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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2002
Journalists’ need for math skills prompts prof’s new book

June 18, 2002

OXFORD, Miss. — Journalists are known to joke that they would be engineers or scientists if they could simply do the math.

Just for them, University of Mississippi assistant professor Kathleen Wickham has written the book Math Tools for Journalists.

“Math is something we learned in middle school. We can’t assume that we remember all the steps,” said Wickham, a New Jersey native with daily newspaper experience.

Today’s reporters and editors deal every day with mathematics — from local government budgets to basic statistics and practical arithmetic. Wickham said the handy, 160-page guide was written in part to address her own math-skills weaknesses, which she rediscovered as a doctoral student taking a statistics course. “I just got tired of being stupid,” she said.

Each chapter uses a news story to illustrate a specific, real need to use math. “My goal is for this book to be used in journalism classrooms to improve the math literacy for future journalists, and in newsrooms to improve math skills in the professional ranks,” said Wickham, who joined the UM faculty three years ago, after a decade of teaching at the University of Memphis.

With a master’s degree in journalism and a doctorate in instructional technology, she teaches media writing, ethics and graduate research methods. Her first book focused on online journalism.

Peter Mattiace, a Colorado journalist, is one of the first to purchase the new book. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a journalist, but it often helps,” he said. “Good reporters, and good and bad numbers sometimes just don’t mix. So, whether you have to figure a tax increase in Nowhere Township, a dip in the unemployment rate or how Enron lost all that money — all that fast — you need Professor Wickham’s book before you start. It’s as simple as 1, 2, ah, 3.”

Her first educational order came from the journalism program at Northwestern University. Wickham anticipates interest from other university journalism programs, because new national accrediting standards call for improved student math skills.

She’ll also be part of national panels on math in classrooms and newsrooms during conferences by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

She said she dedicated the book to her two sons. The younger one even helped cook meals. “His college tuition is coming from this,” she said.

For more information about Wickham’s book, contact Marion Street Press at 708-445-8330 or

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