Glenn Beck says there were 500,000 people at his rally last weekend. CBS, which hired a company to take photos of the crowd and came up with an estimate, reported far fewer: 78,000 to 96,000.
Is it important?
Well, sure. There’s a big difference between half a million and 96,000. It tells us something about the Fox News commentator’s ability to draw a crowd.
What so often happens, though, is journalists give up on trying to provide an estimate of crowd size. Sometimes, we rely on police who are as apt to be wrong as anyone else when it comes to crowd estimates. Number of tickets sold can be a good guide.
If you’re in a measurable space, go for it. Try multiplying rows by columns and looking for “standing room only” overflow. In an unseated crowd, you can do an eye measurement by group of people if you have a clear vantage point on the whole crowd.
But don’t give up. Your editor will ask you because the reader wants to know: How many people were there?