That’s Why They Call Us Wordsmiths

By Jack Limpert

Poynter put up a cute Valentine’s Day feature with this hed on it:

The best, and worst, of having a journalist for a Valentine: ‘no one can do math’

The hed was triggered by this quote from Jessica DeHaven, lifestyles editor of the St. Joseph News-Press: “The worst thing is that we tend to get a bit caught up in the job so it can be difficult pulling away when it’s time for a personal life. To some degree, you never quite get away from the job. And then there’s the problem that no one can do math.”


At The Washingtonian, we had a monthly math challenge: The size of each issue was determined by the number of ad pages that had been sold that month. The budget people had decided on an ad-edit ratio of 56-44: For each 56 pages of ads, editorial would get 44 pages.

About the fifth of each month, we’d get the word: The ad director says we’ll have 119 ad pages.  The edit people would look at each other. How many pages do we get?

56 is to 44 as 119 is to X. Pretty simple algebra. But in the edit and ad departments—about 30 people—there might have been one or two people who could figure it out.


  1. Ann Limpert says

    True story: it once took six editors at Entertainment Weekly to figure out a simple percentage. I was fact-checking and nobody could remember how to do it.

  2. Jim Seymore says

    You got 94 edit pages, Jack. Big issue!

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