Back when I was in high school, I didn’t read books. Not because I couldn’t, I just didn’t like them. Even now I don’t own any novels, rarely read biographies, and my bookshelf consists of Star Trek technical manuals, old Garfield books, and some computer science and philosophy textbooks I still think are interesting.
So the library wasn’t exactly my place to be. I still went there for the computer books and other non-fiction instruction books, but you’d never find me in the fiction section.
One day, I was researching a school paper in the local library (Shout-out Pierrefonds/Dollard-des-Ormeaux Intermunicipal Library! Yeah!). These were the days before Google, so I actually had to look at books to find information. I was walking down the aisle and I happened on this book about statistics. I couldn’t remember what the title is, though it was a play on “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”. I flipped through the pages and started reading.
I read the entire book cover to cover. It was fascinating (well, fascinating for a teenager who didn’t have access to Wikipedia, anyway). It talked about advertisers using bad statistical math saying things like “200% off” and how that makes no sense.
I credit my high-school English teacher for getting me to read more. She was a forest’s worst enemy, photocopying Shakespeare, Chaucer, and mythology texts from all over the place. We needed three-inch D-ring binders just to hold them all. I still have mine at home, and will probably read it one day when I can finally understand it.
When my mother told her I went into journalism and became a writer/editor, she apparently laughed. I don’t blame her. I was a mathematician who had no room for English back then, and the English teacher was always my worst enemy. She turned out to be one of my favourite teachers.
Anyway, getting back on track, the Canadian Freelance Union, a new group trying to secure rights for freelancers with big media corporations (a long battle if there ever was one) released its first newsletter. In it (and on its website), it says freelancers’ real income has dropped by 163%, taking inflation into account, over the past three decades.
The number, of course, makes no sense. Unless we’re paying publishers to use our content (I wouldn’t put it past some aspiring writers to make that offer, mind you), income cannot be below zero. In reality, the average freelancer income has stayed constant, while inflation has made everything else 163% more expensive. That means buying power has decreased 62%, not 163%.
I know journalists aren’t supposed to be good at math, but numbers like this should at least be put through a sanity check before they’re published.