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No One Cares About the Lightbulbs

November 27, 2012

Dog Ear Consultants

There’s been a trend in national and alumni magazines over the last several years to break things down, “By the Numbers.” This can be a great tool and a nice way to break up a front-of-book section or turn a dry little piece on the newly renovated campus building into something more quirky and fun, but too many folks are using facts or numbers that say next to nothing. How many doors or light bulbs in a new building? Who cares? (Think about it: Do you know how many doors and light bulbs are in you own home?) These “By the Numbers” pieces only work if the numbers are surprising or make somebody stop and think or laugh out loud. And this requires some digging.

In the case of that newly renovated building:  Talk to the construction crews to find out what they found inside the walls when they tore them down. Ask people who used to live or work there about their favorite memory in that building, and we guarantee you’ll find more than one surprising story. When a writer for The Penn Stater went  digging for info on an Elton John concert, she learned that the man showed up with three racks full of clothes. She also noted the number of times he changed throughout the performance: 0. (See? Much more fun than light bulbs!)  Or take a look at how The Week broke down presidential campaigning. These numbers are far from funny, but man, do they make readers stop and think. And while we’re at it, at the next CASE Editor’s Forum, we’ll buy a drink for the first person who can come up with a new title for these pieces. “By the Numbers” is starting to feel awfully tired.


(Image courtesy of digitalart at

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