May 20, 2014

Whatever happened to Vox and FiveThirtyEight?

So Ezra Klein and Nate Silver took flight from The Washington Post and The New York Times, respectively, and announced that they were putting together these journalism-transforming websites that were unveiled soon enough to massive attention. But the success of a website has to do with the continual drawing of eyeballs, and there ought to be a constant flow of linkable material that is, in fact, getting linked. I'm not seeing it. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but are people reading and talking about articles at Vox and FiveThirtyEight?

At FiveThirtyEight right now, the front page is full of things I'm not going to click through to: "Only 11 States Have Ever Elected Both a Female Governor And Senator," "How Americans Like Their Steak," "This Man Has Worked For the NBA For the League’s Entire History," "Same-Sex Couples Settle Down More Often in States That Welcome Them," "Eat More Nuts," etc. Okay, I clicked on something, "The Power Bob," which I knew would be about hairstyles, coming from Mona Chalabi, and I got to: "Are Businesswomen With Short Hair a Cut Above the Rest?" Chalabi got out the old 70s style manual "Dress for Success," which showed 5 patterns of women's hairstyles and deemed 2 of them bad for success — "too long" and "too curly." She then classified the hairstyles of the 50 most-powerful women in business today, and found that 8 had "too long" and 1 had "too curly." Chalabi declared herself depressed about her own career prospects, since her hair is long and curly. FiveThirtyEight is oriented to analyzing statistics, and Chalabi generated a statistical study, but it's completely silly, based on a 36-year-old book telling younger people how to become successful and a lot of pictures of older women who already are successful, and ending up with bloggish emphasis on the writer's own emotional state.

At Vox, I'm so put off by the central design concept — yellow highlighter — and all the articles that begin with "Everything You Need to Know About" that I can hardly force myself to look for something to read, but I'll go with "Jill Abramson's ouster from the New York Times," because that's a story I've been following and because it's written by Matthew Yglesias and oh, yeah, they got Matt Yglesias slightly lit up my interest. The format surprises me. It's like I've hit the "Abramson" tag on a blog, and I'm looking at a vertical timeline of posts on the subject. I click on the second one down, titled "The NYT's great explanation of disruption," and I get to "Read the New York Times' insanely clear explanation of disruption," which is written not by Yglesias but by Ezra Klein. Insanely clear. Is that sarcasm or has "insanely" become a normal intensifier like "very"? Serendipitously, the topic of disruption relates to FiveThirtyEight and Vox. The Times text says: "Today a pack of news startups are hoping to 'disrupt' our industry by attacking the strongest incumbent — The New York Times." Ezra, restating the NYT text, reveals that "insanely" really did just mean "very." I am now as immunized to the word "insanely" as I am to the phrase "Everything You Need to Know About."

And that's everything I need to know for now about the insanely disruptive websites Vox and FiveThirtyEight.

ADDED: Proofreading, I got the bloggish, statistics-minded idea of seeing if this was the first time in 10 years of blogging that I had used the word "serendipitously." It turns out I'd used it once before, in this sentence: "Car sticker encountered in Madison, that I serendipitously only had to wait 3 days to find a use for. " The sticker in my then 3-day-old photograph said: "Get your ass to Mars."

36 comments:

gerry said...

When used in connection with the New York Times, serendipitously might be rendered serendupetously.

richlb said...

Vox and Fivethirtyeight are indistinguishable from Upworthy now. Way to "transform" the news guys.

Tank said...

I had 538 on my daily "Look at" list for about two weeks, but ... boring. Every day I come here and almost every day there is something interesting. It's remarkably hard to be interesting to a large group of people every day. You might even say insanely hard.

I did enjoy Silver's book though.

Henry said...

I had some hopes for Five Thirty Eight. I subscribed to their data lab and sports feeds. Every once in a while I'd go take a look at their home page.

After a few weeks I deleted the data lab feed. I still get the sports feed but I barely read it.

They don't ask good questions! It's an exercise in trivia. It's the Ripley's Believe it or Not of the obvious.

Unfortunately, the market is already ahead of them. For every guy with a spreadsheet at Five Thirty Eight, there's an established writer (Bill Barnwell, Joe Posnanski) at a major venue (Grantland, NBC) who already uses analytics in the course of writing much more interesting stuff.

Ann Althouse said...

"I had 538 on my daily "Look at" list for about two weeks, but ... boring. Every day I come here and almost every day there is something interesting. It's remarkably hard to be interesting to a large group of people every day. You might even say insanely hard."

The difference is: I put up what is interesting to me. That is actually not hard, because I am a real person, dedicated to blogging based on what interests me. If that works for you, it's a side effect.

Those websites are trying to be what's interesting to you. That is hard. Trying to please isn't really pleasing. And they are beyond trying to please. They are trying to really, really excite people. But they don't want to do it the Buzzfeed way, with cute animals and other lightweight amusements. They think they can be serious and weighty and also… light!

Unknown said...

The sentence "Car sticker encountered in Madison, that I serendipitously only had to wait 3 days to find a use for" seems to be very bad grammar, and poor and antithetical use of the word "serendipitously" which modifies "only have to wait 3 days." If you were waiting to find a use, the finding didn't happen by chance. I'd have buried this.

Chris said...

In using "insanely" as an intensifier, Ezra Klein may be subconsciously mimicking Steve Jobs.

Ann Althouse said...

"If you were waiting to find a use, the finding didn't happen by chance."

You're reading "waiting" as "searching." And it absolutely did happen by chance. I took a photograph of something I saw that interested me, and then 3 days later an article about Mars interested me. Both things interested me independently and I never searched for the Mars article to justify posting the photo (which I probably would have posted anyway, but I was charmed by the coolness of Mars coming up in the news and put them together).

And it has nothing to do with "bad grammar"! You mean bad usage? If so, "grammar" was bad usage.

Be careful about going on the attack. It provokes defense.

richard mcenroe said...

What happened to Vox and FiveThirtyEight WAS Ezra Klein and Matty Ygklesias, two of a generation that values entitlement over talent, who have made a pretty good living sponging off family and too-long-tolerant employers. Now that they're on their own the unbearable lightweight-edness of their beings is all too evident.

Michael K said...

I have about six or seven blogs I look at every day. The first is Instapundit. Second is here. If I see something interesting, I will come back. After that there are several that I know will be interesting and I tend to stay there more unless you have a good topic.

Vox and 538 are not in that list. There are only so many hours in the day and then there is dog walking to be done.

richard mcenroe said...

Well, MY grammar spoke very well, bless her.

Ann Althouse said...

"In using "insanely" as an intensifier, Ezra Klein may be subconsciously mimicking Steve Jobs."

Good point.

Does that make it current or old? Is it like saying "awesome" and "groovy"?

Ann Althouse said...

Steven Levy's book "INSANELY GREAT: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything" came out a quarter century ago.

For a more recent application of "insanely," here's Insanely Black New 2010 Beyond Black Mega Tingle Indoor Tanning Bed Lotion.

Tank said...

Michael K said...
I have about six or seven blogs I look at every day. The first is Instapundit. Second is here. If I see something interesting, I will come back. After that there are several that I know will be interesting and I tend to stay there more unless you have a good topic.

Vox and 538 are not in that list. There are only so many hours in the day and then there is dog walking to be done.


Damn right, we have our priorities.

Ann Althouse said...

From Urban Dictionary:

insanely

Meaning Awesome, Incredible, extraordinary, etc. Used in mostly the 70s and the 80s. Positive connotation. Used as an adverb modifying only adjectives. This word does not find its way in modern speak much anymore.

Insanely Awesome!
Insanely Fast!

by Syntax Error May 21, 2008

The Crack Emcee said...

I think the phrase "Stuff White People Like" would cover the topics those two websites think are interesting.

The rest of us? Not so much,...

sinz52 said...

For comparison, here are some rankings from Alexa:

Slate: 585
Infowars: 1,272
Salon: 1,238
Politico: 1,687
RealClearPolitics: 4,110
FiveThirtyEight:8,116
Vox: 9,249

Clearly, FiveThirtyEight and Vox aren't the places that folks go to learn about politics anymore.

Mary Beth said...

From an article about Chipotle restaurants and guns in Vox.

In this specific case, the issue is that a group called Open Carry Tarrant County (that's Fort Worth and its suburbs) has been staging demonstrations at area fast food restaurants where a bunch of people march in somewhere unannounced brandishing weapons. This is legal under Texas law, but no amount of frontier tradition changes the fact that it's alarming when heavily armed men walk into your suburban chain restaurant.

brandish - wave or flourish (something, especially a weapon) as a threat or in anger or excitement.

They were brandishing? And brandishing is legal in Tarrant County? I doubt they were and I doubt it is.

elkh1 said...

They need one conservative (a real conservative, not a token NYT conservative, may be a Tea Partier), a liberal (a really out of the left field leftist) to slug it out on the news or scandal of the day. Guarantee they will be linked.

Fen said...

Both these site are simply throw-aways set up to improperly influence the next election with lies and deception.

We saw this last time around - they will spew propaganda and then, after the election is over and their credibility destroyed, quietly close up shop and go back to work for JournoList 2.0 or somesuch.

madAsHell said...

I think the phrase "Stuff White People Like" would cover the topics those two websites think are interesting.

WHAT??

How can you pretend to know what I like!!?!? ;-)

I believe Mr. Klein, and Mr. Silver are a little too impressed with the reflection in the mirror, and every stroke of their pen is magic.

(Yes, that might be a penis joke)

paul a'barge said...

Mona Chalabi? Did someone say Mona Chalabi?

SJ said...

@MaryBeth,

I've seen some discussion of the Chipotle story on gun-rights blogs.

It looks like (A) Texas law does not allow people to openly carry pistols, but does allow people to openly carry rifles, (B) most news stories use "brandish" to describe any non-policeman carrying a gun, even if they are carrying it peaceably.

But there's also (C) the group was Open Carrying to Make a Point, and mentioned taking lunch at Chipotle afterwards.

I gather that some Open Carry groups don't often distinguish between exercising their right to carry in public, and testing the patience of business owners who have the legal power to eject people who are carrying guns onto company property. Even if the business is generally open to the public.

It's a mess, and Vox didn't do themselves any favors by talking about "brandishing".

And the Open Carry group didn't do themselves any favors by bringing the restaurant into their public demonstration.

furious_a said...

Jeff Bezos' decision to let Ezra Klein walk away vs. ponying up $10M and staff to keep him under the masthead is looking better by the day.

tim in vermont said...

So if gifts are blandishments are weapons brandishments?

John Lynch said...

Ezra Klein and Neil Silver worked best when they were writing a limited number of features for another publication.

Too me, it seems that there isn't enough good content for either Vox or 538 to justify their own sites. Too much of it is duplicated elsewhere (Vox) or boring and irrelevant (538).

They needed editors to cut out the crap.

tim in vermont said...

Crack is just trolling now. It is beneath even him. Maybe he is somehow driving traffic to his blog. IDK.

CWJ said...

Mona Chalabi

Matthew (Red Mage) "vengeance is mine" Yglesias

More Children.

Mathew, Vox's author click-through feature is not your friend.

Kirk Parker said...

"I clicked on the link to this insanely clear explanation -- and you'll never guess what happened next!!!"


Kirk Parker said...

Mary Beth,

Your doubts are correct.

Oh, also, what SJ said. It's one of Niven's Laws: "There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it."

Fred Drinkwater said...

"Insanely", "Everything you need to know". Huh. These folks are trying to get eyeballs by cribbing from the style page for Cracked.com and Buzzfeed.com. I predict that tactic will fail.
Re: "Everything you need to know" - Many, many moons ago, I read a paper on the tech behind audio CDs and CD players. The author opened with "There are two kinds of titles for this stuff: "All About ...", which means it's for a general audience, and "Introduction To ..." which means it's for serious professionals."
On today's web, the title "Everything you need to know..." means the article is full of anecdotes, falsehoods, and ignorance. "Everything" is a fine clue to stop reading, and, coming as it does in the very first word of the article, saves you the most time possible.

Sigivald said...

Seriously, who cares about Klein or Yglesias?

Someone must, I guess, but I don't know who.

John Lynch said...

I agree with Crack. They are sites for educated white people who want to congratulate themselves on how smart they are.

I actually like Nate Silver. He's got a message about the world and our own refusal to see things how they really are.

The problem is that his site, rather than tackling our biases head on and saying unpopular but true things, seems focused on facts that are completely uncontroversial and challenge no one.

Biff said...

The Crack Emcee said..."I think the phrase "Stuff White People Like" would cover the topics those two websites think are interesting."

Okay, I laughed at that one! The only place the comment breaks down is that the old spoof site, Stuff White People Like, was a spoof!

Unknown said...

538 lost me when they failed to stand behind their own article about climate change and natural disasters. Roger Pielke, Jr. had written on 538 that there is little evidence that climate change has caused an increase in natural disasters so far. This is the IPCC position on the matter and is widely supported by scientists.

However, there were objections to Pielke's comments. Rather than stand behind their own writer, 538 found another expert to predict that climate change would increase natural disasters in the future. Note that this doesn't conflict Pielke's thesis, which deals only with the present. However, the second article had fuzzy wording, so it looked like it was refuting Pielke.

David in Cal

Dave Buckner said...

Why did Vox take their name from an expensive vodka that nobody drinks?