We’ve read a bunch of opinion pieces on Nate Silver this week, mostly so you don’t have to—because we know how much some of you hate him. The highlights:
NYT‘s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote in a recent column that after praising Nate Silver, she was contacted by three “high-profile” political reporters at the paper “criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.” She thinks this is because Silver’s style of data-based journalism threatened the more… traditional way they covered politics. In other words, he made them feel irrelevant and they lashed out at Sullivan. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum thinks this is a firing offense. “Even for those of us who are pretty cynical about political reporting, this is astonishing. If I were editor of the Times, I’d do whatever it took to find out who those three are, and then fire them instantly,” he says. Let’s see… fire a reporter who reacts badly out of an inflated sense of self-importance and ego. If that’s the standard, journalism could be in more trouble than we thought.
The Guy Who Doesn’t Get It, But Thinks He Does
David Hill’s columns at The Hill are normally confounding, and this week’s on Silver is no exception. He spends a lot of time explaining how Silver will fail in his switch to ESPN for reason’s he can’t quite articulate, other than that “(l)ots of Web clicks, even millions of clicks, for a few months every four years does not qualify as mass media by most standards.” Really? Let’s be clear—Hill has absolutely no idea what Silver’s traffic at the Times is, or when. He’s speculating, and poorly. Scratch that, he’s just making stuff up to prove a point that seems to elude even him, facts or truth be damned. He says there isn’t enough interest out there for Silver to make it beyond his “15 minutes of fame at The New York Times,” (is Hill’s watch that slow?) and then tells us how he had the idea to exactly what Silver does “probably before Silver was born.” The kicker is Hill doesn’t seem to actually totally understand what Silver does—it’s statistics and probabilities and data modeling and that’s… science. So why would Hill, a Republican, take time to understand it? To top it off, this column follows one a few weeks back in which he calls big-data a “craze” that threatens polling standards and then excoriates the Obama campaign for perceived ethical lapses in microtargeting voters. Nevermind Karl Rove pioneered microtargeting years earlier for Bush. Facts are not Hill’s strong point.
Don’t Be Scared
Here’s a piece you should actually go and read, by James Poniewozik at Time. After rehashing the last several days of Silver news, he makes a few strong points, a couple of which many of you probably need to hear—like “Silver embarrassed pundits; he didn’t kill political journalism,” and “Oh, and yes, what Nate Silver does is journalism.” That one is especially important, we think, and Poniewozik makes it very clear: “To the extent that journalism is about the pursuit of knowledge (answer: totally), sifting the data is no lower than working the phones.” In other words, why are some of you so scared of this guy? Trust us, the way the world is moving and the pace at which we’re feeding big data with new points to crunch, there are a lot more Nate Silvers waiting in the wings. The point, which Poniewozik tries very hard to make, is that that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.