FiveThirtyEight post on disputed climate change story signals commitment to transparency
Yesterday, after reading criticisms of Nate Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight, I thought: Denny, find out for yourself. After all, I am, at least historically, a geek. And, I thought, years of reading his New York Times blog showed me Nate is King Geek and FiveThirtyEight at ESPN would, no doubt, reflect that.
So I read “The Messy Truth Behind GDP Data.” Not bad. Classic FiveThirtyEight geeky on an important topic. But, even through so many pundits and politicos base analyses on flawed understandings of GDP, reading the post was akin to watching paint dry. I tried Harry Enten’s story about Hillary and polling. Egads: So. Many. Numbers. Unfamiliar terms. Headache ensues.
Next, because I was a sportswriter, I tried to read “Quantifying the ‘That Guy Is Still in the Major Leagues?’ Phenomenon.” OMG! Help! FiveThirtyEight needs a glossary of so many terms I don’t know.
Nate has over-geeked, I concluded. The new FiveThirtyEight isn’t for me. And I like Nate. Read his book. Learned much from it. GeekSpeak as a news enterprise? Nope. Nate’s blown it. Big time.
But today I saw this FiveThirtyEight link on Twitter and read it. Whoa!
This piece — “FiveThirtyEight to Commission Response to Disputed Climate Article” — was written by Nate. It is not a correction. Rather, it is a detailed, thoughtful, and compelling reflection on readers’ comments as well as an explanation of the story’s genesis and how FiveThirtyEight will react to what readers said.
This is astonishing. Try to get a newspaper to do this, to react in such detail to readers’ complaints about a story. Try to get a newspaper to try to illuminate further — by commissioning a non-employee to write a piece — the fundamental issues raised by the original story and subsequent reader reactions. Nate has demonstrated his (and presumably his staff’s) commitment to transparency and integrity:
We appreciate your patience in the meantime. Climate change is not going away as an issue, and we want to get this right. All journalism relies on trust — between reporters and sources, between editors and writers, between a publication and its readers. Any time that trust is undermined, it’s a huge concern for us. We thank you for your continued feedback. We’re listening and learning. [emphasis added]
Did Nate and his colleagues overreact? Perhaps. But it’s this kind of overreaction that will have me returning repeatedly to FiveThirtyEight. Nate may be a geek, but he’s showing something many journalists do not — a willingness to listen to his readers and engage with them.
Well done, sir.