Quick thoughts about The Upshot

The New York Times today launched a new website called The Upshot. It is their version of a website that explores explanatory journalism and delves into data-driven journalism. In other words, it is their hybrid competitor to Ezra Klein’s Vox and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.

First let’s talk about the two new entrants. Vox’s quality pendulum swings way too much for my tastes, but I like the design (not the yellow color) and the highly effective use of “cards” as blog posts that are part of a bigger narrative. The FiveThreeEight is actually well architected but suffers from poor editing and there are issues with analysis that make it difficult daily read. I stick to Silver’s piece by subscribing to his RSS feed. Rest of the site, I ignore.

Now for The Upshot — the reason I really care about this site is because they hired my former editor Damon Darlin, who probably is one of the best technology editors in the world not editing a technology section. The site itself is very well designed — sparse, well laid out, and quite delightful to read on the iPad, my preferred device for consumption of media. Of course, it is limited by the fact that it has to fit the New York Times website design parameters.

Still, what matters is the content. I spent about an hour or so perusing the site, reading through every story they published. The good news — there wasn’t anything outrageous that stood out. The bad news – there wasn’t anything outrageous that stood out. I wouldn’t call it boring — it is not — but it isn’t grabbing and holding my attention. Yes, there are some cute animations and one can dig through some details.

Reading through it felt like homework. My problem is that the site’s opening day content is a little bland — sort of like bran muffin. For example, this particular story about the US middle class. Now if you spike that muffin with some carrots, apricots or berries, things get interesting. There is too much politics and economics to be honest, and I would have appreciated a more variety of content. Tara Parker-Pope’s The Lure of Forbidden Fruit is a good example of a smart and useful story that marries data with good writing and a little sense of fun.

The UpShot’s editor David Leonhardt outlines in his welcome note that they will be direct, plain-spoken and will use voice that one uses when writing an email and will be “conversational without being dumbed down.” Not sure the site has hit the target — but then it is day one. I will keep reading for a few weeks, only to see if it really is worth it.

Update: April 24, 2014: Three days later, I see a lot more variety in topics and a lot of great stuff that is definitely readable. I still find the writing a little bland and needs an effort. But they have done some interesting data experiments.

A letter from Om

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