My Facebook newsfeed is plump with articles about numbers. From Vox to FiveThirtyEight, data journalism is all the rage. The template is simple: Stories need numbers to be supported; those numbers need studies to create them; and those studies need massive sample sizes to be legitimate.
Somewhere, amid the abstracts and peer reviews, humans become a number.
That can be overwhelming, which is why I was found comfort in a blog by a friend working in Guatemala. Amid one description of life as a researcher, was the phrase, “Statistics are human beings with the tears removed.”
Those words reminded me why I am pursuing human rights journalism.
Not to discredit the power of data journalism, but a percentage point rarely keeps me up at night. What does haunt me is the former alcoholic who was kicked out of his rehabilitation program weeks before completion after one weekend's mistakes. It is the friend who, as a young girl, had “the talk” with her father – not a talk about sex but about being targeted because of her skin color.
Those are not numbers, those are people.
People suffer and rejoice. They raise their arms in celebration and wrap them around others in mourning. Most importantly, though, the example of their lives and their stories create action.
Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt in Pakistan after opposing the Taliban’s ban on girls attending school. Her example of peaceful resistance to violent oppression literally created schools for girls around the world. Her story sparked that movement, not that the literacy rate for Pakistani women over 15-years old is less than 60 percent.
Recognizing and validating the millions upon millions of people whose lives are broadcast in the form of a number is a daunting task, sure. Yet, unless people know what is happening in the world and recognize that it is happening to people whose humanity parallels their own, change will not happen.
When people become numbers, they are easy to ignore and scroll past as though life is a newsfeed. Putting a face and a name to that number -- returning a tear to that statistic, if you will -- may be just enough to catch attention.
It is the reason to place hope in a story's power to create change.
A chance to see the world from the perspective of a 6-foot-2, aspiring human rights journalist. Will include lessons learned and reflections.