The occasion was probably some pro-forma and most irrelevant request for "input" from the English Department faculty (Slogan from the time: "Sheep have input into the decision-making process of the shepherd"), but I took the question seriously. And I decided that the most important thing the Miami University English Department could do — journalism being a division of ours at the time — was require for a B.A. in journalism a course in statistics.
The idea went nowhere of course; many of our undergraduates were in English precisely to avoid dealing with math.
I'll still assert that point again, though, but nowadays put it instead as an admitted fantasy for a change in fashion in journalism: a fantasy where the warm and fuzzy human-interest anecdote in the opening paragraphs of a story is at least occasionally replaced with a more coldly intellectual contextualizing that includes some numbers.
On ethical and political grounds I'd want such replacements where dealing with risk: in stories where it would be well to scare people but not too much. One of the tasks of journalism is to alert people to risks; one of the recurrent sins of "yellow journalism" is to scare people unnecessarily and/or for political motives and/or as part of a trend of increasing anxiety where knowledge of new risks does more harm than good.
Consider Friday, 20 July 2012, when some seventy people "were shot or otherwise wounded, the most victims in any mass shooting" outside of battle "in United States history." Ten died immediately in Aurora, Colorado, at least two later, and some of the wounds were serious, with the youngest victim three-months old.
In human terms, this was a horrific event; in journalism terms it's a big story — and on both grounds the story deserved and continues to deserve wide coverage. It also deserves wide-spread and long-term coverage of this issues it raises in politics and public policy. There are obvious issues to be debated here about our handling in America of problems of mental health, our having a culture that celebrates heroic violence and vigilante justice — and whether or not "a well regulated militia" so important to the "security a free state" might require a technical militia-member such as James Eagan Holmes to keep locked up at a local armory his gas grenades, gas mask, "load-bearing vest," military-grade helmet, "bullet resistant leggings, […] throat protector, […] groin protector and tactical gloves" — and also keep at the armory at least one or two of his "Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automaticrifle with a 100-round drum magazine," "12-guage Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun," and .40-caliber Glock."
Still, or additionally: from the CIA World Factbook, YahooAnswers, my arithmetic, and statistics offered on the web by people who want to legalize marijuana, a little over 6000 Americans die per day of various causes, the great majority of them from such non-newsworthy causes as heart disease, "stroke" cancer, car accidents, and suicide. There were 12,632 homicides by gun in the US in 2007; allowing for the trend of decreasing violence, let's figure a little over 10,000 for 2012, or some 28 per day, few of whom ever make the news.
The slaughter at Aurora, Colorado was horrible; that's a fact. Shark attacks are also horrible. In terms of what people should fret about, however, no one — not even professional SCUBA divers — should suffer anxiety over shark attacks. Nor should anyone outside of Homeland Security spend a lot of time worrying about terrorists — nor should parents worry much about strangers' seizing your children or homicidal maniacs invading your homes.
Some 6000 Americans died on Friday, 20 July 2012, only a few — but too many — from bullets. The risks of everyday life are mostly everyday: banal, non-newsworthy. The risk of death from homicide is slight for most of us; the journalistic sin here is too little note of gun violence when perpetrators and victims are from the US underclasses.
Americans generally need to keep our weight down, get exercise, eat healthy, and do most of the other things Grandma told us about. We should not particularly see "Stranger Danger!!!" all about us nor increase the "quiet desperation" normal to much of human life..
And journalistic coverage should make this clear, even when it sells newspapers and "eyeballs for ads" by full-throated coverage of rare horrors.
We need newspaper stories that begin in the spirit of, "In a rare but monstrous outburst of individual violence, twelve people middle-class Americans can identify with died and fifty-eight were wounded in Aurora, Colorado. Some 6000 other Americans died today, but the slaughter in Colorado was the worst of the infrequent but shocking mass murders in the history of the United States."
I won't hold my breath waiting for English-language media to try to reduce anxiety rather than feed it, or stress for Americans the dull things likely to actually put us in our graves. Or start to pay more equal attention to the wide variety of Americans that die, get kidnapped, or get gunned down.