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.