At noon today, ESPN and Nate Silver turned the lights on FiveThirtyEight, a relaunch of the site originally started by Silver that was until recently under the purview of the New York Times. While the site gained notoriety for its analysis of electoral data in contrast to the “gutfeel” and intangibles analysis of
dumber other writers, the relaunch of the site, as well as the financial backing of the ESPN/ABC/Disney hydra, has allowed Silver to broaden the scope of the site to extend far beyond polls:
Still, I would never have launched FiveThirtyEight in 2008, and I would not have chosen to broaden its coverage so extensively now, unless I thought there were some need for it in the marketplace. Conventional news organizations on the whole are lacking in data journalism skills, in my view. Some of this is a matter of self-selection. Students who enter college with the intent to major in journalism or communications have above-average test scores in reading and writing, but below-average scores in mathematics. Furthermore, young people with strong math skills will normally have more alternatives to journalism when they embark upon their careers and may enter other fields.
Though the first in a recent wave of announced sites with a similar concept (single author given sandbox by media company, see Ezra Klein/Vox, David Leonhardt/NYTimes and Jim Tankersley/WaPo), FiveThirtyEight is the most compelling for me by virtue of Silver alone, as his approach tends to quantify or counter many old-school notions about sports, like “grit” and “toughness” as actual measures of performance for players.
Launch articles of note aside from the manifesto are the in-depth analysis of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball bracket as well as an appreciation of Steve Smith, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, which I enjoyed on a personal level, as someone who heavily relied on him in games of NFL 2K5 on the Xbox, which, for anyone keeping track, is still far and away the greatest football video game of all time. My love for it is almost entirely rooted in the custom soundtrack feature for the game, which allowed me to spend more time ripping CDs than actually playing football just so I could hear The Price is Right’s sad trombone noise when I sacked someone.
Wow, that was a tangent.