Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vox vs. FiveThirtyEight



We live in an exciting time: this year has seen the launch of two sea-changes in news reporting that, and The Omnivore is being serious about this, have potential to redefine the way what we think of as news works. These are, respectively, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight and Ezra Klein's Vox. They are similar in that they are potentially disruptive, potentially game changing. They are dissimilar in that they each take a different approach to how we handle news.

The Omnivore is focused on politics, specifically, although Nate Silver's real genius may lie in sports. I can't be certain.

The aesthetics of Vox are the first thing you should look at: it isn't laid out like a traditional newspaper at all. It's vertical scrolling kind of like a Facebook timeline. It's right-hand navigation is imply the Most-Read Articles  (telling you which are the stories most people think were important). It presents its top-slot stuff with text-over pictures designed for high-contrast readability.

The computer web-site and the mobile site (on a smart phone, at least) translate almost exactly (it becomes vertical more than horizontal and removes images from lower-echelon stories). Vox is elegant. It is also cutting-edge.

The approach is to be very straightforward and very, very clear giving you both the story itself and the background behind it in easy to digest chunks. Look at the 'cards' (each piece is a 'card' which gives you one important discussion point in a series) on the Gender Pay Gap.



Nate Silver made his bones talking about stats and elections. FiveThiryEight talks about politics from the perspective of data. It isn't (at least not foundationally) about personalities. FiveThirtyEight means to "do newspapers" (and electronic media) right--formally--rigorously. It looks a lot more like a traditional newspaper than Vox does.

You can see their modus operandi if you take a look at the article on "The GOP Senator Most Likely To Falter in the Primary Season." You will see an intro, a brief discussion of the measures they are using to make their case (in this case Ideology scores) and how those correlate to primary performance ... and a graph.

This is brutally efficient writing and because of their commitment to being data-driven, it has a mechanism to claim a lack of bias in a way much political reporting does not (note: this does not mean it may be unbiased--it still, obviously, could be--but the editorial direction of FiveThirtyEight is, to my understanding, unique).

Let’s get to the real reason you came here though …


Who Would Win In A Fight?


Ezra Klein
Age: 29
Fighting Style: Full Contact Tai Chi
Record: 14-0-1 (Tie match to Matt “Hammer Hands” Yglesias)

Bench Press Own Weight? Unlikely
Special Ability: Understands his opponents better than they understand themselves, allowing him to predict their every move.



Nate Silver
Fighting Style: Philosophical Jiu-Jitsu
Record: 27-1-0 (Loss by split decision to Princeton Election Consortium in 2012 WAR in WASHINGTON)

Bench Press Own Weight? Unlikely

Special Ability: Incredible precision—able to act with nearly unerring accuracy.


Two figures stand across across from each other, both apparently empty handed, both immaculately dressed in business suits and trench coats.


I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show up, Klein. I wouldn’t blame you.


I’m right on time, Silver. Showing up early gives you a false sense of security.


You’re thirty-two seconds late. The best available evidence from historical records show that anyone late to duel had 23% greater chance of losing.


It’s on.

Like a fast-draw artist, SILVER reaches into the shadows of his coat,  then flicks something out with a sudden, magician-quick movement of his hand and wrist. EZRA head-fakes left but then explodes to the right ducking between two parked cars! Playing cards, thrown by NATE SILVER with deadly force, reflect off of metal and penetrate windows in near-silent showers of safety glass. Silver moves forward, throwing methodically—but he realizes he has lost track of the target.



SILVER flattens himself against a pillar looking to his left and right, listening intently.


Nice trick—I heard you were good with cards. Too bad you weren’t more … accurate.

SILVER ducks, suddenly and bolts around the pillar, keeping low, sprinting to another parking aisle. He pauses, down on one knee, a Queen of Spades appearing between his fingers.


Even Anderson Silva, the most accurate fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, only has a recorded strike percentage of .89. I’ve only got to hit you once.

He listens—hears something and spins! Too late! KLEIN slides across the rear of the car NATE is crouched next to, locking his hands around around SILVER’S collar. They roll across the pavement in a twist / counter-twist series of joint-locks and choke-holds. SILVER sees an opening and goes for a strike: EZRA easily counters and lands an elbow hard across NATE SILVER’S cheek bone, drawing blood. KLEIN is on top.


We don’t have to do this, you know. We could be allies. There’s room for you at Vox.


Explain to me how that’d work again—in depth.


Well, we’d have a hybrid editorial philosophy that would allow for two separate but managed pipelines under the same umbrella brand which--

SILVER throws him off, explosively, rolling to his feet. The playing cards are gone, he assumes a hand-to-hand combat stance.


You sly dog—you got me wonking!


It works on you about 37% of the time. (panting)


What if I told you I knew you were going to do that?

They re-engage, this time with a mix of kicks and punches that each parries or dodges. EZRA spins out to the side, opening distance—and closes his eyes. Silver, amazed, pauses—and then pounces—but EZRA KLEIN  effortlessly evades every strike, ducking and weaving so that SILVER hits only empty air. SILVER, unable to believe it, steps back. KLEIN opens his eyes.


The outcome was never really in doubt. Surrender?

Silver wipes blood from the side of his mouth.


Finish it.

EZRA moves in for the kill, fluidly evading and then replying with devastating counter-punches. We hear ribs break. NATE SILVER is slammed into one car—then another, before sprawling, face down, on the pavement. EZRA KLEIN removes his trench coat, folding it—and then his suit jacket. He begins to methodically roll up his sleeves. While we see this, we watch the irregular breathing of NATE SILVER steady, somewhat. Slowly, painfully, he reaches into his jacket—and removes … a flask.


You should never have left the New York Times.


(Gasping) That’s what they keep telling me.

Suddenly, NATE SILVER flips over, drinking down the flask in one long gulp. He gasps—in pain and … something else. KLEIN’S eyes narrow!


What is that? … Was that?


(Still gasping) 100% … Grain … Alcohol.

Klein pauses and, thinking furiously, ‘does the math.’




Predict this.

DRUNK NATE SILVER calculating all possible odds of every possible scenario lashes out in BULLET TIME against EZRA KLEIN who dodges and weaves. Cement pillars shatter as they they fight, SILVER relentlessly driving KLEIN back across the parking lot towards a wall. Klein stops, shirt ragged, hair a mess, back against the wall. DRUNK NATE SILVER stands before him, now barely breathing hard. EZRA KLEIN is cornered—unable to defend himself—but … he doesn’t quite look beaten.


So, DRUNK NATE SILVER, what’s the outcome? Which of us leaves this parking garage alive?


The answer is obvious—you don’t need my powers of calculation to--

He trails off … then utterly stunned, looks back at KLEIN, refocusing. Astonished.


We … both do? Apparently the world really is big enough … for the two of us.


At least for now it is.


No comments:

Post a Comment