Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nerds vs. Jocks

Nate Silver, the man who is the keeper of the Sacred Scrolls of Electoral Math (and a huge Detroit Tigers fan), is leaving the New York Times for ESPN/ABC News.

Apparently the parting is not amicable.  Not because he didn’t do his job — boy howdy did he ever do it — but because, according to Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at the paper, he doesn’t fit in with the middle-school-level clique that is the Times editorial room.

* I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.

His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” Of course, The Times is equally known for its in-depth and investigative reporting on politics.

His approach was to work against the narrative of politics – the “story” – and that made him always interesting to read. For me, both of these approaches have value and can live together just fine.

* A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, 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.

In other words, the big jocks got shown up by the kid with the clipboard (although it’s hard to imagine some of the folks in that clique — David Brooks, for example — as any kind of jock).  But you get the idea.

One bark on “Nerds vs. Jocks

  1. I would suspect Brooks was one of the in-crowd who didn’t get along with Silver. I think the predictions Nate made went against David’s fondest hopes – that Republicans would take over the Senate, House and Presidency and put the world right. Didn’t happen doggonit. That blasted nerd . . .

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