Landing on the New York Times page after you followed a link tells you something about it, to a certain extent. You still have to figure out if you trust the article you are about to read. Your expectations are higher than if it was Daily Mail, but you are still on guard. How do you decide in advance? By the name in the byline. If it is Maureen Dowd, you expect entertainment, but not much depth. If it's David Brooks, you expect seductively beautiful writing that is based on pseudo-sociology he picked out of thin air to conform to his ideology. But if it's Paul Krugman, you know you will get a better understanding of some aspect of economics because the guy knows his stuff - he is an expert.And you know exactly what you'll get if you see the byline of Nate Silver. Expertise engenders trust. When I write about biology, my readers trust me as I am an expert. When I write about media, people trust me a little bit less because my expertise in this came later, was not "official" (i.e., no graduate school degrees), and is mostly based on my own impressions and experience, though my track record so far has been pretty good. When I write about politics...why would anyone trust me? Everyone has a political opinion, right? What is important to note is that there is hunger out there for expertise. I started as a political blogger. Back in 2003/2004 there was a bunch of us starting political blogging. We each tried to add a particular angle, or bring in our other expertise (I focused on psychology of ideology, a nascent field now called 'political psychology'), but mainly we pontificated about politics and performed acts of media criticism and of political activism. After the 2004 election, many of us specialized. Ezra Klein focused on health care and became a "Go To" person for it, resulting in his hire by the Washington Post. Many others did something like that and got hired as campaign managers, or writers, or consultants, etc. I focused on science and ended up at Scientific American. In January 2005 I started a science blog, separate from my political blog. And instantly, with my very first post, the new blog reached the same traffic levels as the old blog. There were comments, questions. In science, I was an expert, and people trusted me and were hungry for information. I said and wrote this many times, but long posts that do not shy away from nitty-gritty details (including numbers, formulae, technical terms if explained first, even Latin names for animals - see super-successful Tetrapod Zoology blog right here on the network) do extremely well. They may not get an instand surge of low-quality traffic from Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon or Fark, but they accrue tons of traffic over time. Such pieces are not seen as entertainment, but as resources - something to be saved, bookmarked and shared with friends. Such pieces keep getting re-discovered and re-shared for years after initial publication. They provide value that a one-hit wonder, entertaining piece does not. They provide value that standard, short, news pieces do not - they provide context and detail and quality of explanation that comes from expertise, something that a 400-word piece cannot possibly contain, as there is not enough space for it. Longform writing works. What is expertise? How does one become an expert? There are two ways. There is the 20th century method (yes, 20th century is an outlier on everything), in which one does hands-on research on a very narrow project while, hopefully, reading a little bit more broadly, resulting in an official badge of expertise - an MS or PhD or MD or some such degree. And then there is the historically traditional method that is making a big come-back now - having a deep interest in the topic and doing it yourself, reading, discussing with others, doing own research, blogging about it, writing and reporting on it for years, establishing oneself as an expert on the topic. This is how the most respected journalists became most respected - by becoming the Go To experts on a particular topic. The generalists and pundits - or, if you want, foxes as opposed to hedgehogs - are the reason why the audience is losing trust in the traditional media. They have seen expertise, and they are not going back. There is something importantly different about l'affaire Silver, though. Most of the cases in the past were impressionistic. We used our own 'gut feelings' to say that a particular blog post by an expert X was better than a traditional news article by a journalist Y. But now we can back up our gut feelings with numbers. This case is empirical. Expert blogger Nate Silver was correct, while pundits and traditional bloviators were not...and here are the numbers. How does expertise fit inside the new media ecosystem? It is easy here at Scientific American. We are an expert publication almost by definition. When news breaks, and there is a science component to it, others come to our site to get the reliable scoop on it. Generalist news organizations link to our articles on the scientific aspects of news stories. All our editors are experts on the topics they write about (and some even have the 20th century badges of expertise, i.e., PhDs and such). And then we have the blog network, where we have about 50 additional experts in other fields. Being on, or regularly reading, Scienceblogs.com over several years, where science bloggers were treated as 'media', taught us a lot. We learned from one another, learned from our own mistakes, and learned by analyzing mistakes of traditional media. We encountered and studied the traditional journalistic ethics and best practices and incorporated the best of it into our blogging. The Pepsigate scandal was a particularly useful teaching moment for all of us. We became better writers, better journalists, and better bloggers. The distinctions between these blurred. But we remained experts in our domains. And we resisted some of the traditional media trappings. Being Web natives, we vehemently resist the alien concept of "word count". No blogger I know ever counts words in their posts (if they do, they are too ashamed to say it publicly). The post is done when it's done, when all the historical, philosophical, social and methodological context is included, all details hashed out, all conclusions finalized. And we know that #longform works best. And we resist detached "objectivity". We know we gain rapport and trust with our readers if we insert ourselves into our stories, explain what is the personal connection, where does our expertise on the topic come from, what are our potential biases on the topic, why are we particularly excited about this topic and decided to write about that and not about something else. As I said yesterday, the traditional and new forms are fusing, learning from each other, getting better as a result, and we are all better off because of it. The line between blogs and columns, and between beats and obsessions is getting fuzzy, and that's a good thing. Many traditional journalists are now also blogging, experimenting with forms and formats, and then transferring those into their more traditional writing. This is why forward-looking media organizations are hiring experts. And why the pundits and bloviators, once their contracts expire or they retire, will gradually disappear from the media ecosystem (this will take many years, especially on TV which is the most resistant to change). This is why journalism schools are training experts. This is why media organizations are hiring bloggers. And then some of those bloggers get desks in the office, salaries equal to staff, benefits, etc. One day, that will be the norm. Let's hope. Links: Nate Silver: the verdict. Under Attack, Nate Silver Picks the Wrong Defense The Times's Washington Bureau Chief, and Legions of Others, in Defense of Nate Silver New York Times wants to hold Nate Silver to newsroom standards Sorry, Margaret, You Need to Get Out More Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What Do You Do? Nate Silver probability map vs. Actual map Three Lessons From The Nate Silver Controversy Here's What the New York Times' Nate Silver Traffic Boom Looks Like In defense of Nate Silver: Pundits bare their misunderstanding. 'How Can That Be?' More on the 'They Can't Both Be Right' Saga Wrath of the Math: Obama Wins Nerdiest Election Ever Silver Medal In Defense of Nate Silver, Election Pollsters, and Statistical Predictions The Nate Silver backlash Data, uncertainty, and specialization: What journalism can learn from FiveThirtyEight's election coverage Nate Silver gets a big boost from the election Why Math is Like the Honey Badger: Nate Silver Ascendant Nate Silver of 538.com and his critics in the press corps. Get your literacy up. Nate Silver's Braying Idiot Detractors Show That Being Ignorant About Politics Is Like Being Ignorant About Sports In defense of Nate Silver -- and basic math Today's War on Nate SIlver: Quiet Flows the Don Edition The Passion of Nate Silver (Sort Of) Pundits versus probabilities What's FiveThirtyEight Good For?: The Inevitable Nate Silver Backlash How did Nate Silver Get the Election Odds so Wrong? Math and Discipline -- Why Nate Silver's Accuracy Isn't About "Big Data" Nate Silver the Real Winner of Election 2012 How did Nate Silver predict the US election? Among the top election quants, Nate Silver reigns supreme Drew Linzer: The stats man who predicted Obama's win Was Nate Silver the Most Accurate 2012 Election Pundit? Climate science is Nate Silver and U.S. politics is Karl Rove Debunking Two Nate Silver Myths Whatever Nate Silver Does, Isn't Science How a nerd named Nate Silver changed political reporting forever. Nate Silver: Why I Started FiveThirtyEight Pundit Forecasts All Wrong, Silver Perfectly Right. Is Punditry Dead? Can Nate Silver's example save political journalism? Gallup is very upset at Nate Silver Nate Silver on the Election, Pundits, and His Drunk Alter Ego Foxy Nate Silver and why old-media hedgehogs could soon be old news Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs. Visit ScientificAmerican.com for the latest in science, health and technology news.
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