News organizations have always treated data as simply a complement to the news, but freshly relaunched FiveThirtyEight is flipping that idea on its head. Hot topics are secondary to stats with the Nate Silver-led startup, which promises impartiality and—unlike so much of its be-first-now-be-right-later blog competitors—hopes to never end up with egg on its face.
“We’ve all seen that there can be a cost on rushing to be first,” managing editor Mike Wilson told Adweek. “Accuracy is sacrificed. We think that we can give readers a deeper understanding of the news and of the world by building stories on a foundation of data.”
Where news organizations often skim only the surface, FiveThirtyEight—a collaboration between the stats-driven politics oracle Silver and sports juggernaut ESPN—wants to flesh out the story by analyzing third-party news reports and crunching numbers.
“There’s a service aspect to what we do,” Wilson said. “We can look at certain subjects where there’s a commonly held view that we can upset or challenge by looking at the facts underneath.”
Data journalism isn’t a new concept, but it’s essentially the pen with which Silver has inked his name. ESPN partnered with the innovative blogger for last week’s FiveThirtyEight relaunch, which will encompass sports, economics, science, lifestyle and, of course, politics. “We’re part ESPN, so sports is important to the company and to our audience,” Wilson said, “but not more important than the others.”
Wilson said the site will run ads for a “small number of quality sponsors,” of which E*Trade is the first.
To attract the eyeballs that brands covet in a cluttered online content space, David Armano, global strategy director at Edelman Digital, said FiveThirtyEight must push highly shareable content. But the site isn’t going to feature feel-good videos, clips of adorable cats or BuzzFeed-like quizzes. “Just looking at their content right now, it’s the question mark—how their content is going to end up in social streams,” Armano said.
To foster viral, Wilson said the site will include infographics, videos and even films. “We all know the Web is a very visual medium, and we intend to be very richly visual in the long term,” he said.
Altimeter Group analyst Rebecca Lieb pointed out that many news outlets don’t have the talent, time or money to dedicate to visualizing content. With Facebook and Twitter tweaking layouts to bolster rich media in their news feeds, she said, images are now a key component of every story.
“That works extremely well for a media-snacking culture that is as likely to be consuming media on a smartphone, tablet or, heaven knows, on a watch, as they are on a monitor,” Lieb noted.