PRAXIS 2022: Whole Numbers & Half Truths

Spelling out that communication resonates by telling stories, Rukmini S, Data Journalist and Author indicated that numbers and stories don’t have to be at odds with each other but they should come together to build trust, as spoke on the topic – “Whole Numbers & Half Truths”

Why ‘data’ matters to storytelling and PR? Data has come into its own, and narratives are tendered in data now, Rukmini stated. And Indian data gives you a reality check. If you earn
Rs 8500.00 a month, you make it to the top 5% in the country; owning a car would take you to top 8%, owning a computer/laptop – top 9.3%, taking a flight – top 3% of urban Indians, living outside the state you were born would fit you into 5% of Indians. And do you get a weekly off?  Less than 10% fall into this bracket. Did you have a love marriage? That constitutes 3%. The reason to engage with data is to give a reality check!

Data can help push back against tired narratives about India like acceptance of inter-religious marriages, old schisms around elections, opinion polls etc. What does the data really say? “Look outside our bubbles. The bubble effect is stronger than we know. But how can we break out of bubbles? Have less polarised conversations. COVID reporting broke past bubbles because it validated what people were saying,” explained Rukmini. 

Communicating data is a challenge

Significantly, communicating data is a challenge. “We teach Math, numbers very poorly and we are intimidated by numbers” – was a debatable observation she made. Like colors, numbers have their own psychology spinning around them. We gravitate towards some and sometimes actually shy away from some.

We’ve heard that storytelling is vastly important in business, and in life; and that it’s a really powerful tool that has lasting impact.  Is there a way we can tell stories? What should our communication be? The rigour in the numbers must be in the stories as well. “Engage people better, especially those working with numbers,” she advised.

Stories and numbers compliment each other and can come together to build trust – this is what young people expect from us, was her point of view.

A conversation with Arpit Garg, Vice President, Adfactors PR, she said that in material ways things have changed, when he observed that the young generation today is very different from the earlier one.  

When  Arpit wondered if there needs to be a way to contain narratives, especially in political reporting, pat came Rukmini’s answer – “The part of political reporting that needs to die is a journalist parashooting into an area. Be free to choose the point as your central point”.

Is there any data that online journalism builds trust with readers or distrust? “I will answer without data. Trust drives readers to pay to get news” – was her answer. 

Any insights from the newsroom about data journalists and PR people? What needs to be done to make it better? It needs to stop being “an antagonistic relationship.” The options should be – offer access to as much data as possible; more PR firms should ask from clients and data from tech companies too would be useful.

The impact of media is not well understood. Any solutions? Someone needs to put money into solving this, she suggested. 

What is the role of data in futureproofing PR? “I would like data to play a greater role in all communications. There is a huge crisis of credibility especially among the younger people. How do you cut through that? Hope numbers will be in our kit to give solutions,” was her parting shot. 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

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Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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