Numbers We Need to Know

Exercise #1: Numbers We Need to Know

“Million, billion, trillion … all big numbers. A trillion is just a bigger number, right? True … but it may be bigger than you think. A million is hard enough to imagine, much less a billion. We need some perspective on what these unimaginable numbers really mean.” — If I Had a Trillion Dollars

Q: How many millions are there in a trillion?

Q: If you were a star newsanchor earning $1 million, how many years would it take you to earn $1 billion?


1) Identify a number that you believe is important for a New York journalist to know, roughly, by heart. Don’t reveal the number. The class will first attempt to identify it.

2) Once the class has responded, put that number in context. For example, if you were talking about population you might give a sense of growth by offering a number from an earlier decade.

3) Cite the source for your number and why you believe it is credible.

Exercise #2: Harper’s Index

Review the numbers presented in your edition of the Harper’s Index handout and identify one number or set of numbers which you think is particularly revealing. Explain why and whether it/they might be worthy of a more in-depth exploration.

Exercise #3
Operations order
Mean, Mode, Median
Math for Journalists Quiz