The navel gazing of media elites around the emergence of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight and Ezra Klein’s Vox.com seems to have taken on a life of its own. Earlier this week, none other than Paul Krugman had to take a baseball bat to his former Times colleague Silver in his well-read blog/column. Today, Silver has responded in a piece published on the Talking Points Memo.
This he-said-he-said drama (there aren’t many she’s in this world) is nothing new for me — the East Coast media has always been less than charitable towards any member of the media tribe who dares to do something new and different. I saw a similar kind of negative commentary and dismissiveness when online media emerged in the early days of the Internet. At the beginning of the new century, when blogs emerged and folks like yours truly experimented with marrying “blog” philosophy — short, speedy and snappy — with news, we were dismissed as dwelling in the nether regions of the media ecosystem.
Of course, this derision has since become the destiny of the mainstream media, which has always been negative because it has been reared on cynicism for the sake of cynicism. I believe cynicism is the enemy of optimism, the life blood of our society and of business. We — especially in the United States — are fueled by that philosophy. Being critical is part of the job of being an observer of the changing landscape, but being cynical is not. It is a sign that you have actually stopped caring about the thing you love and instead view it as a chore.
What doesn’t help is when smart people like Silver take an antagonistic (and somewhat arrogant) stance towards the old world. Silver, in an interview with a New York magazine, took some swings at The New York Times, and many of his assertions weren’t questioned by the interviewer, who seemed to be looking to start a fight. So it’s not surprising that some of the people he mentioned have their claws out. (I am surprised that someone as smart as Krugman hasn’t asked the right questions: how does this scale to become a big business and what are the economics of such high-quality data-driven editorial?)
Maybe that is one way of getting attention for a new website, since the loudest horn gets the most attention in these days of gnat-like attention spans. The other way is to just do good work and let your readers be the judge — media pundits be damned.
Whenever people asked us about the old media, I would often point out that we are here to co-exist and thrive by being different and decidedly nimble. That has worked for us — after all, in the end it is the reader who is the ultimate arbiter of who wins and who loses. That is why Silver needs to make sure that the assertions made by his publication are solid, and that there are no incidents that might undermine the value of the overall goal of the publication: smart, data-backed journalism. Until that happens, I for one will keep going back to Silver’s new project, and I wish him and his team the best of luck.
7 thoughts on “Establishment vs Nate Silver: Some Thoughts”
“Scale” is certainly *one* good question to ask about FiveThirtyEight. But ultimately, the question will come to whether the new media does a job better, or less expensively, for enough people.
I was a fan in the 2012 election battles, but TBF, that was against the most un-disciplined, crippled competition: spin-meisters who were not actually trying to forecast the election, but ensure that a steady flow of contributions kept coming to what would ultimately be a futile cause. Whatever it took was the goal, not the coolly detached analysis that Silver provided.
But very few of us have the appetite for the inside baseball of politics more than a few months every four years. FiveThirtyEight wisely morphed to sports, where again there’s a mountain of cruft attached to loyalties, coulda-shoulda-wouldas, bar bets and almost impossibly lottery-like March Madness bets. I’m sure that’ll sustain the site.
Where they have yet to show that they have a secret sauce, one not on general offer in the world, is in climate issues, economics and perhaps other intellectual endeavors. Yes, these ALSO have hidden agendas that make for awful prognostications and hand-waving, but there’s no giant exposé come 10pm on a November Tuesday night. Ideally, proper science inches forward; typically it does so uncertainly or in herky-jerk fashion, and then the general populace concludes oh, it’s better to eat roast meat with high fat content, than that high-fiber stuff I hate, utterly missing any insights done by the hard work of science. And unfortunately, the early articles in FiveThirtyEight’s corpus don’t do anything to address the anti-smart, financially-motivated anti-smart types. Initially, in fact, I see more of “a plague on both your houses” attitude that is just as bad as what it purports to fix.
If FiveThirtyEight wants to tackle some new economics around “scale,” they could address the question of how it works in the United States of 2014, where millions and millions of highly individualistic, focussed readers will aggregate in the way that De Moivre described almost 300 years ago: towards a bell-shaped curve of readers, that some analysts think is the exclusive fate of the print media.
Om – You are simply the most thoughtful blogger in the blogosphere today. Thank you. There is a fascinating discussion also going on about Seeking Alpha (where I am invested) vs Traditional Financial media centering on pseudonymity and platforms vs. Bylines and Editor Directed content.
This is a fascinating dialogue the should continue to be explored. Thank you for leading.
It would be wonderful to see many of these new sites succeed in changing the type of journalism and platforms. I think we have thinking at media companies that has atrophied. I hope 538 pushes us into the future.
Yes, even geeks have differences. My wife critically examines everything from Silver, I’m waiting for more than a placeholder from VOX. Krugman tugs a smile from this cynical optimist [!] as often as anything.
But, then, after the weather and checking functions at the blogs where my own silliness or rants appear, OM is my first morning stop – because it’s time to wake these little gray cells. I think many folks check those other sites for affirmation of their own point of view, assumptions, personal outlook. Om – you give me something to think about, perhaps a new outlook and attitude I hadn’t looked at or simply a fresh look at a topic. At least as important.
Jostling these little gray cells is as important as simply turning them on.
Much of the pushback I’ve been seeing is somewhat political in nature.
Just as some over-praised Silver for his analysis of the last presidential election (as if he caused the election to swing the way it did), many of the same people have been striking at him for some of his analysis of the upcoming midterm elections, showing Democrat’s control of the senate being at risk.
It’s that some cannot separate analysis from cheerleading, and presume that Silver has turned against them. It’s this view of spin creating reality, and the presentation of reality as spin, that not only has bred the backlash against Silver, but also shows the need for what Silver is actually trying to do. Krugman for all his reputation as an economist, is far too much a political pundit these days, so I fear that this is in part his motivation.
Some of this is also a bit of professional offense at the idea that the news needs better statistical analysis, as if it’s a personal slam against reporters. In this aspect, it’s “Moneyball” all over again.
“I believe cynicism is the enemy of optimism, the life blood of our society and of business.” I believe that apathy is the enemy of Optimism and cynicism is the epicenter of narcissistic personality. Cynics only are on defense and always have their backs to goal. And critics are the refs. March madness is amongst us…
Traditional journalism is dying if not dead yet. And that’s a fact. Other industries have been affected by Internet before. Some as the Entertainment Industry thought it could fight the Sea of Change, and the have been trying to for the past decade while drowning in it. You have the chance to ride the Swell, and if you know anything about the Sea, you had already learned that by swimming by against it you only get to drown. But if you ride it you’ll get the best of it.
So the choice is on the Journalist & Publishers, the industry has changed beyond what you see and imagine, so it’s time to reinvent yourselves and your business, before there’s any to reinvent… Be Bold.
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