The New York Times wasn’t about to let abandonment issues from their political forecasting celebrity, Nate Silver, keeping them from the rush to launch their own data-driven news channel. The Times’ “The Upshot” is the latest in a host of news channels to launch in just the last month, hoping to snag the juicy pageviews of netizens who are leaning toward stories that are scanner friendly graphs, listicles, and maps.
We wanted to give our readers a handy guide to all the new news channels, and we couldn’t think of a better way than our very own graph (below)
“Data-based reporting used to be mostly a tool for investigative journalists who could spend months sorting through reams of statistics to emerge with an exclusive story,” writes the New York Times’ David Leonhardt in his introduction to The Upshot.
“But the world now produces so much data, and personal computers can analyze it so quickly, that data-based reporting deserves to be a big part of the daily news cycle.”
The New York Times launched the site with more graphs than you can shake an unemployed philosophy major at. For instance, the chart below is from an article arguing that there really isn’t a meaningful group of independent voters in America. They may say they don’t affiliate as “Democrat” or “Republican”, but so-called “Independents” reliably vote for one party or another in presidential elections.
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The Upshot joins a litany of new channels that have seen crazy-lucrative traffic from stories that present information in an easily scannable format. The listicle masterminds at Buzzfeed are generating over 100 million uniques a month and are on their way to become one of the most successful sites on the Internet. And it’s not all cat pics and hunky-man lists. Buzzfeed’s “35-Steps Guide” to understanding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine racked up nearly half a million page views.
The former Washington Post celebrity political blogger, Ezra Klein, left the Washington, DC, mothership to start his own policy-focused website over at Vox (the parent of tech blog The Verge).
In addition to graphs and general news, Vox specializes in explaining the news in simple Q&A format, with clickable links, called “cards”, which allow readers to dive deeper into subject matter. Most of Vox.com is a nugget of economic analysis, but his writers will add a candy-coating of pot and marriage-breakup stories to attract a new audience. Klein is betting that readers want more explanation and less incrementalism in their news.
Vox began shortly after the New York Times’s famous election forecaster, Nate Silver, left the comforting arms of the Gray Lady to the well endowed purse of ESPN. Silver and the now ESPN-owned 538 brand made headlines when he predicted that the Senate Democrats are more likely to lose their leadership position to Republicans this year. His site isn’t above a statistical analysis of delightfully happy painter Bob Ross.
Neither, Buzzfeed, Vox, 538, or Upshot has any idea if the data-driven model works at scale. The fact that their willingness to bet millions. The mad rush for traffic is fueled as much by desperation as it is opportunity, given the dire state of the newspaper business.
We might be witnessing the future of news, or a failed attempt at trying to stay afloat on a data life raft in a sea with no rescuers looking for survivors. Happy Tuesday!