Thursday, April 10, 2014

538 and Vox

Kaiser Fung made a comment in this thread:
LIke Andrew, I also have been thinking about this, and I come out on the side of Nate. Individually, the critique stands but taken together, they don't call for any coherent vision of how his critics would run an operation such as his. The level of rigor that Krugman and others demand requires years, perhaps decades, of research to write one piece; meanwhile, the other critique is the content is not timely. Think about the full-time journalists he has hired - there isn't a way to pay them enough to do the kind of pieces that are being imagined. As we all know, data collection, cleaning and analysis take a huge amount of time. It may be months of work to get one article out. Further, I'd like to judge them relative to competitors rather than in some kind of abstract universe. Compared to the Freakonomics blog, for example, 538 has a much better orientation. Compare to Huffington Post - when did HP have any real data journalism? Compare to Buzzfeed, don't even want to talk about it.
Now, this is Joseph and not Mark.  My view was that you simply cannot judge a publication until there has been six months or so to let things settle.  I suspect a lot of the criticism was driven by the climate change article -- and it is interesting to see that this is where people's passions are the highest. 

Other columnists, like Emily Oster, are much more subtle cases.  I was very dismissive of Emily after her first foray into public health.  Her second has seen a lot of criticism as well, but what is different is that the current round is based on careful weighing of evidence and very subtle issues of interpretation (and this was only for a single, small piece of a much larger work).  She is getting a lot better. 

And that is part of where I am optimistic about Nate Silver.  He is doing something really hard and it remains to be seen if the criticism slowly improves matter. 

In a lot of ways, the other new information based news source (Vox) has the exact opposite problem.  They spent a huge amount of time trying to make some really good pieces (like this one) and grab some of the people I used to read elsewhere (even obscure ones like this).  But it will be interesting to see if they can keep up the kick-off level of quality over time. 

So I guess the really good news is that we are spoiled for choice with new, information rich, media start-ups.  It's hard to see how this is a bad thing. 

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