Counting crowds

Demonstrators gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the annual HKonJ march. But how many people where there?

The 11th annual HKonJ march took place this weekend in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Topics included health care, the right to vote and President Trump’s immigration policy.

As with similar demonstrations, there’s uncertainty about how many people participated. Here’s how some local media organizations characterized the attendance at what is also known as as the Moral March:

  • IndyWeek said more than 80,000 people were there, citing tweets from the North Carolina NAACP.
  • On Instagram, New Raleigh posted the 80,000 figure, providing no attribution.
  • said “thousands” were there and that “massive crowds filled the streets.”
  • The News & Observer said that “thousands” attended. “Event organizers didn’t provide a crowd count but said the total was the largest in the 11 years of HKonJ, which stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street,” it reported.

Readers are understandably curious about how many people attended a demonstration. It’s part of the story of such an event.

Coming up with an actual number isn’t easy, however. Organizers will likely exaggerate attendance, and opponents will minimize it. Ostensibly neutral observers such as police departments don’t want get involved with crowd estimates.

So what’s an editor to do? I liked the N&O’s cautious approach here, though I would have been comfortable saying “tens of thousands.” That phrasing, in addition to images and video, gives a sense of the scope of the march while maintaining accuracy.