The numbers to remember when covering Powerball fever

That you are reading this column in today’s Daily Herald doesn’t necessarily mean I still work here. I had to finish the column before the $1.5 billion Powerball drawing, so it’s conceivable that I won and have decided to sleep in this morning and every morning from now on.
Conceivable. Hahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahaha!!!!
Yes, in the way that it’s conceivable that Coldplay will randomly call one American tonight with an invitation to play keyboards for them on their farewell tour and I’ll be that person.
Actually, my Powerball odds are better, come to think of it. They’re 292 million to one. Based on the population of the United States, the likelihood of that Coldplay call, assuming anyone would do such a thing in the first place, is 323 million to one.
So, I don’t see a need to start practicing my piano scales. Why did I see a need to buy that Powerball ticket? More to the point of this newspaper column, what is our role in covering the Powerball story, which one has to admit promotes an activity that amounts to little more than the forfeiture of two bucks?
Indeed, since disadvantaged people make up such an overwhelming proportion of the population that plays the lottery, the “game” has an understandable reputation among some people as a tax on the poor. This is not a behavior one can cheer without reservation.
But it is one that periodically overwhelms the public consciousness and instills a sort of mass hysteria, and that certainly is something that any responsible news organization must cover. Because the issue seems so benign, we try to keep the coverage in context — lighthearted and inconsequential. What would you do with the money if you won? Would you quit your job? How much can $1.5 billion buy? What do investment specialists say you should do if you win?
It’s all part of our effort to tap into people’s dreams and help them enjoy them, even if, like the dreams themselves, it’s only for a fleeting moment, before we present the story of that one poor sap, or possibly two or three poor saps, who became the “1,” changing their lives forever and, if some lottery research is to be considered, not likely for the better.
So, as of this morning, we’ve all had some fun dreaming about a life of vast financial wealth, and we’ve all accepted the reality we chose to ignore yesterday. We at the newspaper hope that along the way, our coverage has represented the excitement appropriately, and also that in the midst of it all, you haven’t lost sight of the numbers that count.
They’re 292 million to one. Whether it’s at the peak of a Powerball fever or at any more-routine lottery drawing for, what?, 10 or 15 million dollars, those are the numbers we have to emphasize continually and you must keep in mind.
Put another way, if you’re practicing your scales, make sure you have the time and it’s for your own enjoyment. Coldplay is not on the phone.

Jim Slusher, [email protected], is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.