Through the looking glass of a Columbia Missourian reporter

The Presidential Election is closing in on us, and fast. With the 2012 general election next Tuesday and the political horse races about to end, I wanted to touch on the most important observation that I’ve made over the course of this campaign from a journalistic standpoint. Journalists are all about the “savvy” when they should really look at the diametrical opposite and utilize an approach based upon science, calculations, and numbers.

These horse traders that call themselves journalists are doing a very good job of misleading the public and selling both newspapers and ad space. In short, they’re generating the clicks, views, and responses necessary during an election year to support and generate revenue for their newspapers. This is a flawed approach, however, and the general public may not realize it yet, but in the coming years, they surely will. More than ever, society and the United States citizenship doesn’t want sugarcoated facts or political falsehoods. Honesty serves to further the purpose of those who use it maybe now more than ever.

With this in mind, Nate Silver is the go-to guy for present-day election coverage. His site, 538 — now under the umbrella of the New York Times — has been hailed as transcendent by many and widely revered by political pundits and people who want to keep a true pulse on the race (much like myself). At the same time, political journalists — the horse traders who sell the race on a daily basis and push a narrative based on their sourcing and access — malign and attack Silver’s blog relentlessly, discrediting it and going so far as to call him a “wizard” on occasion.

The reasoning is obvious: they don’t want to be undercut and lose their place at the top of the totem pole. Much like Moneyball overran the traditional “feel” based scouting that Major League Baseball relied upon since its inception, Silver — who penned a book that detailed Moneyball and has dabbled in baseball stats — is threatening to take over the scene. With the New York Times behind him now, Silver, the man who incredibly predicted 49 out of 50 states correctly during the 2008 election, stands a chance to prove his true worth to political journalism on a national stage.

I’m a real believer in Nate Silver and I also believe that the evolution of journalism is necessary by all means possible. This is a serious infringement upon traditional journalistic techniques and style — access vs. science, specificity vs. “gut-feelings” and certainty — and I’m delighted. Those who are maligning Silver don’t have much of a leg to stand on as this article details and they will likely be exposed to the general public as story-weaving columnists, rather than their proclaimed role of fact-tellers and informative political journos. I’m not saying that those people don’t have roles — more than ever, they do in this opinion-laced society. But if Nate Silver can hit the reset button on political journalism and cut through the heart of the problem — daily horse-trading and feeling-based journalism — perhaps journalism stands a chance of regaining the public’s trust on these matters that are crucial.

And no more can the candidates utilize sourcing and access as carrots for the journalists at hand, potentially muddying the waters of objectivity and in the worst-case scenarios, dictating and guiding story narratives. With science on his side and a flawless batting average, Nate Silver is rewriting the script on this election and penning a narrative of his own for the future of political journalism.

– J

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