The New York Times' new data journalism site The Upshot launched on Tuesday, making it the third big new media site to focus on explaining the news with lots of numbers, following Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight and Ezra Klein's Vox.
The Upshot will focus on politics and economics, and it has two goals, editor David Leonhardt writes in his intro. It will "navigate the news," for one, explaining what matters in a "direct, plain-spoken way, the same voice we might use when writing an email to a friend." In addition, the site will actively use large data sets to write those explainers. For example, its lead story today is a statistical model that attempts to forecast who will win a majority in the Senate in the 2014 elections. And there's also a nifty graphic that uses the model to simulate the election, given those forecasts.
The Upshot has only been up a few hours, sure, but it's impossible not to compare the site to the fellow fresh-faces on FiveThirtyEight and Vox. The three sites all live in the realm of what Al-Jazeera America's Malcolm Harris calls "Actually Journalism," or stories that cut through the noise to find that "Actually, X was really Y the whole time." You can see elements of that Actually Journalism already on The Upshot, including in "Incumbent Southern Democrats Are Less Vulnerable Than You Might Think" and "The Myth of Swing Voters in Midterm Elections." You think it's one way, the articles argue, but actually it's another.
Put those three sites on a scale of big data to explainer, though, and you can start to see the differences from FiveThirtyEight to The Upshot to Vox, respectively.
FiveThirtyEight rests on the far data side of the scale, focusing on data and regression analysis for sports, politics, and culture. Its story on the large number of deaths among professional wrestlers, for example, looked at a mix of actuarial and probabilistic death rates compared to their actual deaths. That heavy use of data comes to the conclusion — yes, wrestlers die more — but the explainer part gets less emphasis. The highlighted 0.0001 probability in the lower right of the chart means that the data on increased death rates of wrestlers is significant. But that conclusion isn't broken down into explainer-speak and written on a conversational level.