FiveThirtyEight, the data analysis site founded by statistician-turned-journalist Nate Silver, relaunched Monday under ESPN's ownership, promising stories rooted in statistical analysis, interactive graphics, news applications, podcasts and films.
"One of our roles will be to critique incautious uses of statistics when they arise elsewhere in news coverage," he wrote on the site Monday. "At other times, we'll explore ways that consumers can use data to their advantage and level the playing field against corporations and governments."
Silver came to prominence in 2008 when he compiled and computed local election polls to predict Barack Obama's victory in the general election. The New York Times subsequently struck an agreement with Silver to host his work online, and Silver's updates and similar prediction for President Obama's 2012 re-election drew heavy traffic for the newspaper's website.
ESPN bought the site in July 2013, seizing ownership of the brand but offering Silver more resources and editorial control to expand its coverage. FiveThirtyEight.com remained dormant until Monday as Silver hired journalists and programmers to overhaul the site to include topics that interest him beyond politics – sports, economics, life, and science.
Perhaps owing to initial hiccups for the site's rollout, several readers complained on Twitter early Monday afternoon that it wasn't loading. "The thinking here is we're 75 or 80 percent ready, but the thing is, if we waited another month, we'd still just be 80 or 85 percent ready," Silver told New York Magazine last week.
In a 3,500-word "manifesto," Silver criticized "conventional" media organizations' "anecdotal and ad-hoc" approach to stories, rather than pursuing more stories that are based on "rigorous and empirical" evidence. "One of the challenges that FiveThirtyEight faces is figuring out how to make data journalism vivid and accessible to a broad audience without sacrificing rigor and accuracy," he wrote. "We have several strategies for this; understanding which ones will work is going to require some experimentation."
Given its mission of embedding thoroughly processed data in its stories, FiveThirtyEight will rarely break stories or be the first to comment on developing news, he says. "To classify these stories appropriately, we'll have to do a lot of work in the background before we publish them. All of this takes time. That's why we've elected to sacrifice something else as opposed to accuracy or accessibility. The sacrifice is speed."
With a staff of 20, the site will collaborate with ESPN Films and Grantland, a ESPN-backed sports and pop culture commentary site founded by sportswriter Bill Simmons, to produce original documentary films. It will also write software code on Github, a web hosting service for open source projects.
FiveThirtyEight was cross-promoted on ESPN.com Monday, featuring Silver's prediction for the NCAA basketball tournament.
Silver said he chose the site's logo, a fox, because it's an allusion to a phrase attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."