Baron’s success adds up

-The Star Newspapers December 15, 2002
By Joe Takash

Did you know that when you turn 31 years, 8 months and 8 days old, you’ve lived 1 billion seconds?

You probably didn’t, but this is the stuff that excites Matt Baron.

By the time Baron was 10 years old, he recognized that he had a gift for processing numbers at a blinding speed, with stunning accuracy.

“I see the world through a mathematical lens,” Baron says. “My brain was wired, at conception, to see numbers in just about any situation.”

I asked him what 37 times 22 was and in less than two seconds, he spouted, “814.” For kicks, he multiplies and divides license plate numbers while driving and has never had an accident as a result.

On the business side, by Baron’s own joking estimation, he operates 6.4 enterprises on a monthly basis.

This includes being a freelance reporter for Time magazine, the Chicago Tribune and Sports Illustrated for Kids, and he runs an organizational development company in which he trains entrepreneurs.

Additionally, he is the Calculating Chief of a consulting and training enterprise, appropriately named, Go Figure.

Baron regularly tours the country educating organizations on the impact that numbers have on their bottom line and how they can communicate that information more effectively.

“It fires me up to be able to help people and companies translate a mound of indecipherable numbers into something that prompts them to say, ‘Wow, now I get it!’ ”
Perhaps it’s the selfless approach to his craft that ultimately adds to Baron’s success. He genuinely wants to help people succeed.

“The God-given talent I have amounts to zero unless I use it to empower others,” he said.
You may read this and think this guy is a numbers geek, but speaking to Baron is anything but boring.

For example, he has developed a baseball statistic called the Home Run Power Ratio, a historical inflation index that can logically compare legends from different eras, like Barry Bonds with Babe Ruth.

This has given baseball aficionados an apples-to-apples comparison as to who are truly the best athletes over time.

Baron is gifted with tools that instill confidence in people and help organizations understand their business more thoroughly, all while he successfully juggles multiple business empires.

Best of all, Matt Baron is a likable gentleman who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he’ll be the first to tell you that attitude is the No. 1 key to his success.

“Monday is my favorite day because it means I have another fresh week to connect with people and, hopefully, make some positive impact,” Baron said.

“It helps that, since I have a home office, I’ve been able to cut my commute from 32 miles to 32 feet.”

Ah yes, life is definitely a numbers game.

Tak-Tip: If you’re up to challenging Matt on numbers and sports trivia or if you want to find out more about his Go Figure training seminars, visit his Web site at

Joe Takash speaks to organizations around the country and delivers programs to build morale and increase profit. He also serves as director of corporate relations for Robert Morris College.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Matt Baron

originally published on

Location: Oak Park, Illinois and online

What’s the latest thing you’ve worked on?

Almost all of my freelance writing is for the Chicago Tribune, and lately, in addition to my coverage of three communities and assorted breaking news, I have been reporting on the mysterious murder of an associate professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Peter D’Agostino. I covered his memorial service, among other assignments related to the aftermath of his murder.

What has been your most difficult project and how did you deal with its challenges?

Overall, getting and telling stories filled with crisis has been the biggest recurring challenge.

The most difficult project in recent memory:

Since February 2003, I have covered the town of Cicero for the Chicago Tribune. For the next 26 months, gathering information from the administration was arduous and, sometimes, impossible. In response to stories that revealed various problems with and questionable decisions by his administration, the town president (voted recently out of office) stopped speaking to me. I had to file FOIA requests for basic public information, such as a listing of bills paid.

I dealt with this ongoing challenge by cultivating a variety of sources from inside and outside town hall, and by being persistent with my requests for information. I made it clear that I would not back away, and that if anyone chose not to comment for a given story, then it would not halt the story’s publication. It helped a great deal to have good editors that stood behind me.

What’s the best or most helpful thing that you’ve learned about writing, editing or publishing?

Objectivity is an illusion-we bring our life experiences and biases, subtle or strong, into everything we do. However, it is vital that throughout the process we treat everyone with respect and strive to be “FAT”-fair, accurate and thorough. And it all starts with talking to as many people as possible, with an openness to all perspectives.

What’s the worst writing or editing advice you’ve ever gotten?

One editor once advised me to never offer to go off-the-record with a source. While I don’t go out of my way to look for opportunities to go off-the-record, there are times when it is the only way to gather insight that can help provide context and tone for a story. It also builds trust, which is a long-term must if you want to develop in a given beat. Off-the-record information often leads to on-the-record information that elevates a story’s quality and impact.

How do you plan a training session and figure out what students want to learn and the best way to impart it?

I interview participants by telephone and through e-mail. This process enables me to tailor a session while at the same time helping me and participants identify their needs (which may vary from what they initially think they need). By investing time up front, I develop a solid rapport with participants, who at the same time develop a more vested interest in the session’s success. The wiser clients understand the value of this planning phase, and make some of their employees or members available by phone or e-mail.

My stated goal is always to share information and inspiration that will reap results for participants on their very next deadline. That puts the focus where it ought to be–on their needs.

Since my first “Go Figure: Making Numbers Count” training session in February 2001, I have found the best way to impart the information is by emphasizing interaction between the participants and me as well as amongst the participants. (Note: I do not refer to them as students, as I stress to them that we are all students and teachers.)

I develop a clear outline up front, share the road map with participants, and then strive to have as much fun as possible through features such as “Golympics,” a game-show format in which participants assemble into teams, select a team name, and then compete against one another by answering questions based on topics previously covered. This puts their new learning into immediate application and maintains a high level of interest and enthusiasm.
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that I occasionally nudge folks’ interaction with sugar-packed inducements (candy).

Matt Baron helps you ‘Go Figure’

By Steve Buttry, Oct 12, 2004
originally published on

If you, or some journalists you coach, have trouble using numbers, or words that act as surrogates for numbers, perhaps you should “Go Figure.”

Matt Baron, a freelance writer and trainer, provides help for mathematically challenged journalists through his “Go Figure” workshops and columns.

You don’t need to know lots of math to understand the workshops or the columns. Without being condescending, Matt makes the issues he writes and talks about simple and understandable.

His October column is an example. First, a writer can’t be condescending when he’s taking himself to task. Matt, who lives in Oak Park, Ill., covers some suburbs for the Chicago Tribune. In a recent story he described a person as “widely regarded … as a viable candidate” to challenge a town’s mayor.

The mayor’s spokesman challenged Matt’s use of “widely regarded.” Matt had actually armed the spokesman for this discussion with a recent lecture for use of “several,” a vague word that is one of Matt’s pet peeves.

Any journalist hates to admit that a challenging flack is right, but this one was and Matt did. “Of the town’s 85,000 residents, I could not say with any certainty that the trustee was ‘widely regarded’ as a viable candidate for dogcatcher, Man of the Year, or anything else, for that matter,” Matt wrote.

He had been caught using what he calls Cuties, short for Quantitative Terms (QT’s): “Without even realizing it, we express a mathematical assertion with terms such as: consistently, constantly, conventionally, customarily, frequently, habitually, incessantly, increasingly, infrequently, intermittently, mostly, normally, occasionally, oftentimes, periodically, regularly, religiously, repeatedly, routinely, seasonally, sporadically, traditionally, typically, usually.”

I took the list as a challenge. I ran each of those words, plus several and widely, through my newspaper’s library to see how many times I had used each since 2000. Ouch! Several, the first word I tested, appeared more than 100 times. I’m not telling you how many. It hurts enough to tell you I was vague that often.

Several (yes, I’m being intentionally vague here) of the words appeared more than a dozen times each in my copy. Lots (hey, there’s a QT that wasn’t on Matt’s list) of the words, I was relieved to find, never appeared in my copy. But the bottom line was undeniable: I had used the Cuties on Matt’s list 361 times this millennium and I’m pretty sure no more than a handful (Matt, your long list needs to grow) were supported by the research that ensured their accuracy, or at least their precision. Actually, I’ve written scads (there’s another) of stories dealing with religion. I might have used religiously accurately.

My point is that Matt’s columns and workshops teach effective use not just of numbers, but of the words we use to express numbers. And they are easy to understand, even when he deals more heavily with numbers themselves than he did in the October column.

You can take advantage of Matt’s “Go Figure” services one of three ways:

  • E-mail him ( to subscribe to his free monthly “Go Figure” columns, which he sends by e-mail.
  • E-mail him to discuss presenting his “Go Figure” workshops for your newsroom or organization. (He does workshops on other topics as well, including deadline reporting and reporting on crises.) The workshops aren’t free, but I sat in on one last year at the New York State Press Association convention, and I’ll vouch that he provides valuable training that’s fun and easy to understand.
  • Visit his Web site and read his archive of old columns. Alas, he hasn’t posted the recent columns there yet, but he’ll probably send the October one if you ask when you e-mail asking to be added to his mailing list.

    And if you like baseball, you can also find some interesting columns about baseball statistics on Matt’s Web site. If you e-mail Matt about baseball, be gentle. He grew up in Massachusetts and now lives in Chicago. So the poor guy is a Cubs fan and a Red Sox fan. He “was hoping for a clash in the World Series between these historical heart-breakers.” But then his Cubs collapsed. And now his Red Sox are heading for another heart-break against my Yankees.

As I told Matt, the Cubs and Red Sox consistently, constantly, conventionally, customarily, frequently, habitually, incessantly, increasingly, mostly, normally, occasionally, oftentimes, periodically, regularly, religiously, repeatedly, routinely, sporadically, traditionally, typically and usually disappoint their fans.

They are widely regarded as cursed.