Cynics would say “precision journalism” is an oxymoron, like unbiased opinion or civil war. But precision is an ideal to be sought in journalism, though not often achieved.
As defined by Knight Ridder reporter Philip Meyer in his groundbreaking 1973 book of the same name, precision journalism is the use of the tools of social science to replace, or at least supplement, reporters’ time-honored methods of citing anecdotal evidence and doing educated guesswork. Today, thanks to Meyer’s call, I’m one of hundreds of investigative reporters who have crafted serious stories using such tools as survey research, statistical analysis, experimentation and hypothesis testing. It’s social science done on deadline.