Statistics, Quick & Easy: Strengthening Your News Stories at WWW.Fedstats.Gov

Article excerpt

Strengthening your news stories at www.fedstats.gov

Statistics can bolster a point or strengthen a news story, but many editors and reporters are reluctant to rely on such numerical data.

One reason for this is that statistics is a field they often ignored as journalism students. Moreover, the work-a-day world can teach reporters a bitter lesson: that people who control stats sometimes guard their turf jealously, parsing out facts only to serve ulterior motives.

But now, an Internet resource called FedStats can painlessly provide all kinds of original stats -- from the international scene all the way to Main Street and our own backyards -- with no strings attached.

Getting fresh numbers out of Uncle Sam used to involve snail-paced mail service or endless rounds of phone tag.

FedStats lets us circumvent such obstacles by giving us direct access to fresh federal figures that can be used in all kinds of news and feature stories. For instance, the stats can show:

* How a drop in unemployment in your region relates to a possible increase in homeownership and a decrease in bankruptcy cases.

* How your state compares with other parts of the country on such diverse subjects as personal income, college enrollment, teachers' salaries, poverty, crime rates and so on.

* Where your community falls on assorted health-related scales, from the number of doctors and outpatient hospital visits, to infant mortality, teen pregnancy, even motor vehicle deaths.

FedStats brings together data reported by more than 70 U.S. government agencies, from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

To use it, visit the site and click on the "Fast Facts" option on the introductory screen.

This enables you to look through the entire Statistical Abstract of the United States or, if you are really in a hurry, to go directly to either the most popular tables (such as national health expenditures, the federal budget summary and the Gross National Product to consumer price indexes, motor vehicle registrations, retail sales figures, etc. …