Nate vs. Leo (and Another Nate): On FiveThirtyEight and The Upshot

Statistics guru Nate Silver has long been considered a master political prognosticator, and for some time he held a virtual monopoly over what has since come to be known as “data journalism.” But around the time that Silver ended his four-year tenure at the New York Times to build an expanded version of his popular FiveThirtyEight blog under the patronage of ESPN, several other players moved into the market: Ezra Klein, formerly of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, hired “literally everybody” to help him launch Vox.com, and the Times’ David Leonhardt, creator of the now-defunct Economix blog, succeeded Silver as the paper’s nerd-in-chief with the debut of The Upshot in March 2014.

Much has been written about the strengths and weaknesses of each of the sites, including by our own Chris Fegan a few months back. But there’s one story about the data journalism food fight that has largely slipped under the radar: when it came time to start making forecasts for this fall’s elections for the U.S. Senate, The Upshot and its main politics writer, former New Republic contributor Nate Cohn, somehow managed to completely steal Nate Silver’s thunder.

Part of Silver’s unique appeal during the past few campaign seasons stemmed from the fact that he used statistical models to make quantitative forecasts of the outcomes of presidential and senatorial contests, as opposed to simply offering up the sort of qualitative assessments that are a dime a dozen elsewhere in the world of punditry. For all their weaknesses, these models had some important advantages: they allowed for new data to be quickly incorporated into FiveThirtyEight’s view of a race, and they made it possible to systematically attend to a wider range of variables than a mere human could on his own.

When The Upshot debuted “Leo,” its own model for forecasting the results of the 2014 Senate elections, I initially assumed that it would be a cheap knockoff of Silver’s more refined approach, and that I should really just wait for the new incarnation of the FiveThirtyEight model if I wanted to hear from professionals about what we ought to expect come November.

Leo’s methodology page features a Vox-style Q&A that walks readers through the mechanics of the model. Here’s the response to the first question, which asks about how Leo interprets polls:

We focus on the margin between two major candidates, taking steps to make different polls directly comparable. We tweak polls that count registered voters instead of likely ones. We make further adjustments depending on who conducted the poll.

“Well yes,” I thought, when I read that for the first time, “but they probably don’t make as many adjustments as Nate Silver would, like weighting polls based on their sample size or how recent they are.” Then I scrolled down to the next paragraph:

After adjusting the polls, we take a weighted average for each race, giving more weight to polls with a larger sample size and more recent polls (with a poll’s date being especially important the closer we get to Election Day). We also give more weight to a poll when we are more certain about its pollster’s house effect.

“That’s nice,” I chuckled condescendingly as I kept scrolling, “but I bet Leo doesn’t include any of the other sort of data that Nate Silver would, like candidates’ approval ratings or fundraising totals!” False:

For incumbents running for re-election, we consider their approval ratings. We also consider each candidate’s political experience; money raised; the state’s most recent presidential result; national polls on the public’s mood; and whether the election happens in a midterm or presidential year.

“Alright, this is a little better than I expected,” I said to myself, beginning to furrow my brow, “but Leo probably doesn’t account for the fact that the outcomes of races in different states tend to be correlated, which was something Nate Silver always thought was very important to model.” Also false:

We don’t think the races are independent. If the economy starts booming, it will probably help Democrats everywhere. If President Obama bungles an international crisis, Republicans everywhere could benefit. Even on Election Day, our model assumes the races will be correlated to some extent: The pollsters will tend to miss consistently in one direction or the other across the different races.

I finally realized that Leo was not only quite sophisticated, but that it was virtually identical to the old FiveThirtyEight model. In fact, the methodology page basically admits as much:

Leo owes an intellectual debt to earlier models, including those created by political scientists and especially the FiveThirtyEight model, which popularized ideas about adjusting polls, combining polls with other information and national swings.

FiveThirtyEight has been releasing informal reads on the most competitive Senate races at regular intervals for the past several months. Silver has noted that it is the site’s “tradition” to begin transitioning to algorithmic predictions sometime during the summer. This is indeed what FiveThirtyEight did in 2010, when it began publishing results from its model at the end of August. Yet does one data point make a “tradition”? In 2012, Silver’s model was launched at the beginning of June – right around the same time of year that he made this comment.

One obvious response to those (like myself) who would criticize Silver and his team for letting The Upshot beat them to the punch is that unveiling a quantitative model too early might give a false impression about the precision with which the results of an election can be forecasted many months out. Silver may have been worried that readers would fail to realize just how much uncertainty is associated with early predictions, and would put too much stock in seemingly precise numbers that aren’t really all that informative.

But this is always a danger, and Silver dealt with it in 2012 by posting confidence intervals alongside his forecasts of the popular and electoral votes. Moreover, FiveThirtyEight has argued on multiple occasions that early Senate polls have plenty to tell us about November. Here’s Harry Enten, in a piece from April entitled “Early Senate Polls Have Plenty to Tell Us About November”:

More than six months from the midterm elections, current polling and past precedent are competing for our trust. I analyzed which measure is more indicative come November, and it turns out that polls are a more robust metric even though their numbers are still sparse and there’s still so much time remaining before the election.

It’s not clear what Silver can do at this point to reassert his dominance. Maybe he’ll just try to rely on FiveThirtyEight’s superior name recognition. The site has about three times as many Twitter followers as The Upshot, so it’s possible that the efforts of Leo and Nate Cohn will simply be forgotten in the buzz surrounding the eventual rollout of FiveThirtyEight’s own model. But among hardcore political junkies, I can only assume that Silver’s brand has lost some of its luster. Barring a new model that features some truly innovative bells and whistles, it looks like he allowed himself to be totally outflanked by another guy named Nate.

In Silver’s first post at the new FiveThirtyEight, he explained that “we’ve elected to sacrifice something else as opposed to accuracy or accessibility. The sacrifice is speed – we’re rarely going to be the first organization to break news or to comment on a story.” Fair enough! RM prizes depth over quick turnaround too. (This may or may not be an attempt to offer a noble-sounding excuse for our frequent dry spells.) But it’s not clear that FiveThirtyEight is gaining much of anything by taking its time in rolling out its Senate model. Silver and his colleagues have certainly sacrificed speed, but the upshot is that they seem likely to get nothing in return.

 

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Initial Impressions of Vox

Earlier this year, I wrote about the coming influx of new journalism sites and opined on their prospects against current media stalwarts.  All of the sites that I referenced at the time are now live and have been operating at full capacity for at least a couple of months.  Here’s what Vox, my pick for the most promising of the new ventures, has accomplished and what it should do differently going forward.

Vox’s Mission Statement

Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, and Melissa Bell launched Vox (originally codenamed Project X) in late March.  Their goal: to explain the news and to make complex stories both accessible and engaging.  From their soft-launch site explainer:

In journalism, you’ll sometimes hear articles about hard topics referred to as “vegetables” or “the spinach” — the idea being that readers don’t like those subjects but they should be reading about them anyway. Our view is that there’s no important topic that can’t be made interesting to the audience. If we’re writing about something important — something that matters in people’s lives — and we’ve made it boring then that failure is on us, not on our readers.

They also promised a unique, technology-rich feature set to accomplish this goal:

It’s our job to experiment with all kinds of preparations: Feature articles, traditional news articles, Q&As, FAQs, graphics, videos, visualizations, and even faux-conversations like this one. It means being willing to adopt a tone that isn’t intimidating and being honest that we’re also trying to figure this stuff out. It means developing some innovative new editorial products that let us deliver contextual information more cleanly, clearly, and regularly. Our only promise is that our goal in all cases will be to move people from curiosity to understanding.

Five-Card Stud: Vox’s Card Stack Model

The centerpiece of Vox’s media model has been what it calls “card stacks.”  Card stacks are pop-up interactive features that break down a given issue into topic-based cards, with each card representing a sub-issue or important piece of information related to the topic at hand.  Check out Timothy Lee’s card stack about net neutrality as an example.  The stack walks the reader through the basics of what net neutrality is, the history net neutrality, and the peripheral questions and debates in the news that involve it.

The card stack idea isn’t necessarily original; Bloomberg has been publishing similar “QuickTakes” of given issues for a while now.  But Vox has given primacy to card stacks within its editorial framework and sees them as the bedrock for future stories that pertain to the issue in question.  Most news pieces are relegated to the trash heap of history almost immediately after publication, but Vox’s cards are a promising case study of how certain stories can have continued value in the long run.

Successes

1. The writing is fantastic.  Vox’s journalists have been producing high-quality work from the get-go.  Sarah Kliff, Libby Nelson, Max Fisher, and Tim Lee, among others, have produced really excellent coverage of healthcare, education, foreign policy, and technology, respective.  Matt Yglesias’ review of Capital in the 21st Century is more or less my platonic ideal of the book review: it explains the book’s content and provides a succinct overview of why that content matters.  (I really hope additional book and film reviews like this will be published in the future.)  Dylan Matthews is still Dylan Matthews.  With a team this good, quality is basically a guarantee, which suggests readers will return to the site.

2. The features are innovative and varied.  I love the execution of the card stacks thus far, especially those that dig into the background of huge issues or topics like the Affordable Care Act.  The card stacks are easy to read and are arguably a better, more concise go-to source than Wikipedia or any other information portal, at least for general topic overviews.  Matt (Mazewski, not Yglesias) mentioned to me a little while back that he enjoys the video pieces for their succinctness and quality.  The Q&A breakdowns are a good change of pace and function as mini-card stacks for quick reads.  Vox’s format mix is the best example yet of the new course that innovative internet journalism can plot.

3. Inclusive, unobstructed design.  Credit Melissa Bell’s team for crafting a site that has avoided the design and technology pitfalls of so many other news organizations.  The design is clean yet bold.  Card stacks are simple and easy to navigate.  The mobile site functions flawlessly compared to the desktop site.  Ads are tastefully juxtaposed to pieces and don’t clutter the page.  There are no sponsored content links adorning the end of articles.  Comments are not currently accepted, which is a surprising (and not unwelcome) break from the model nearly every other news site employs.  All of these factors add up to a reading experience that puts the focus on the news and respects the reader by avoiding content gimmicks.  That could be a distinguishing factor as Vox’s reputation solidifies as a haven from the inescapable garbage of Buzzfeed, Forbes, etc.

Room for Improvement

Though Vox’s site design is quite good, the site’s organizational layout needs to be improved as its team begins to aggregate content.   Its current biggest weakness is the lack of a framework for browsing previous stories and posts.  For a site that’s designed to use older stories as a running basis for new events, that’s more than a small problem.  There isn’t even a search bar to locate old articles by topic.

Creating an archive would go a long way towards solving that problem and making Vox’s content more accessible.  But it wouldn’t solve the underlying issue of Vox’s content organization: it’s often unclear why a given story format was paired with a given story.   As Vox continues to grow, it would be helpful to establish consistency in what kinds of stories are posted in each format to better inform readers how each piece fits into the Vox ecosystem.

For example: it makes a lot of sense for Sarah Kliff’s primer on the Affordable Care Act to be published in a card stack, since the ACA is a huge topic and will likely be referenced in a substantial number of future posts.  Based on Vox’s mission statement, it seems like card stacks are the engine for repurposing basic story information for new events and updates.  So why was coverage of Jill Abramson’s firing also published as a card stack?  It was certainly an important event, but it’s highly unlikely this specific incident will be used a as a reference for more than one or two future posts.  If card stacks are most closely linked with recurring utility, why not publish this post as an FAQ or a faux conversation?

I’d take two broad measures to add clarity to Vox’s organizational framework:

1. Use card stacks for stories about institutions, histories, ongoing movements, and key historical events.  Use other features for everything else.

Or, basically, divide content into “things we will use again” and “posts with issue-specific longevity or scope.”  Designate card stacks as the medium for overarching issues that will have a probable chance for future re-use.  My crude measuring stick: imagine it’s December 2015 and we’re recounting key events from 2014 that will probably be relevant going into 2016.  Anything that’s deemed as relevant should be in a card stack; anything that’s deemed less important should be published via a different feature.

So the ACA, the violence in Ukraine, and the coup in Thailand all make sense as card stacks since they’re important issues that will likely have recurring relevance in the medium-term.  The Jill Abramson case and the Bryan Singer allegations would probably have more of a short-term lifespan and should be published as something else, though overarching topics like pay discrimination by gender certainly warrant card stacks.  Of course, any events that magnify in importance could be upgraded to a card stack accordingly.

This might not seem like a significant issue, but as Vox’s published material continues to increase in quantity, it’s important for readers to get a sense of what each story format represents.  I’m also a firm believer that a repository of quality card stacks would be a distinctly monetizable product, an asset collection that could be billed as a friendlier Wikipedia.  It’s important to ensure this product would be of consistently high-level quality rather than a mix of lasting issues and ephemera.  A card stack about the new X-Men film, for example, would have only detracted from the product’s holistic value as it pertains to schools, libraries, and other possible third-party vendors.

2. Create an archive and divide it into four sections: card stacks, non-video features, videos, and opinion pieces.

This would be simple.  Create four product pages that aggregate content for easy navigability.  Card stacks would have their own separate page for the reasons described above.  All other features would be collected elsewhere.  Vox’s video series has been very, very good so far and it would make sense to distinguish video material from all other content, both for easier viewing and the unique ad revenue opportunities associated with the medium.  An opinion page wouldn’t be necessary, but some analysts have bemoaned the loss of Matt and Ezra’s non-“Voxsplaining” musings, and creating an opinion page would ensure Vox has great and clearly delineated takes on both the news and commentary.

Why This Matters

Yglesias recently responded to a critique of Vox from Facebook Content Director Mike Hudack, who argues that Vox’s content decisions betray the team’s original goal of publishing serious journalism:

Personally I hoped that we would find a new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native and natural to people who grew up interacting with screens instead of interacting with screens from couches with bags of popcorn and a beer to keep their hands busy.

And instead they write stupid stories about how you should wash your jeans instead of freezing them. To be fair their top headline right now is “How a bill made it through the worst Congress ever.” Which is better than “you can’t clean your jeans by freezing them.”

The jeans story is their most read story today. Followed by “What microsoft doesn’t get about tablets” and “Is ’17 People’ really the best West Wing episode?”

It’s hard to tell who’s to blame. But someone should fix this shit.

In response, Yglesias argued that social media sites like Facebook are the reason that this kind of content receives more attention than serious journalism:

As of writing, the jeans story has been shared 1,062 times on Facebook while the DATA Act story has been shared just 242 times. That’s why the jeans story has been read by more people. We featured the DATA Act story much more prominently on our home page, but these days the bulk of web traffic is driven by social media and the bulk of social traffic is driven by Facebook.

Yglesias is correct insofar as social media sites are quickly becoming the go-to source for news and peer-recommended stories.  But even though Vox might give greater homepage weight to stories like the DATA Act article, there is no such primacy given to these lengthier pieces in Vox’s own story history OR on its Facebook and Twitter streams.  Content is publicized with equal weight and filed away with equal weight.

If Vox wants to change this perception, preserving content like card stacks and videos becomes a critical tool in showing which assets and stories have real centrality in Vox’s content bank.  No one should fault Vox for pushing stories on frozen jeans and what “basic” means, since these kinds of traffic-boosters are easy to read and attract eyeballs and revenue.  But Vox should be faulted for not doing enough to distinguish the content it wants to prioritize after publication, especially when so much of it is really damn good.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Vox was my pick for the most promising of the new internet sites.  To my mind, Vox’s talent and broad story variety, coupled with its focus on long-term storytelling and backing of the powerful Vox Media brand, will ensure its continued expansion and innovation going forward.  Taking these steps to streamline its content will go a long way in buttressing its mission statement and most effectively leveraging its assets.

The Duty to Endorse?

In one of those quirks of American politics, New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states in the Union that hold quadrennial gubernatorial contests in the year after a presidential election. I wrote the other day about some of the Garden State’s political paradoxes, which have led to likely landslides this evening for both Republican Governor Chris Christie and a ballot measure that he adamantly opposes. But the race in Virginia, where the Democrats have a decent shot at taking over all five statewide offices for the first time in forty years (in a swing state, in an off-year), is heading for an equally anomalous conclusion.

There is much armchair psychologizing of the New Jersey and Virginia electorates in which we could indulge to try to explain why a socially and fiscally conservative Republican is cruising to victory in a state that reelected Barack Obama by 18 points, while a mediocre Democratic candidate has clung to a stubborn lead in a state that is still quite purple, albeit trending blue. That said, I’d like to leave the baseless speculation to Politico and its ilk, and turn instead to an interesting anecdote about newspaper endorsements in the two races.

On Sunday, October 20th, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Newark-based Star-Ledger, the most widely-circulated newspaper in New Jersey, both published editorials weighing in on their states’ respective gubernatorial showdowns. Or rather, one of them weighed in, and the other explained why it wouldn’t. From the Times-Dispatch:

The words that follow should not come as a surprise. During recent months, numerous editorials in The Times-Dispatch have lamented the gubernatorial campaign. The major-party candidates have earned the citizenry’s derision. The third-party alternative has run a more exemplary race yet does not qualify as a suitable option. We cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate for governor [emphasis added]. This does not gladden us. Circumstance has brought us to this pass. This marks, we believe, the first time in modern Virginia that The Times-Dispatch has not endorsed a gubernatorial nominee.

The paper criticizes Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of the state, for holding “objectionable” positions on “social issues such as abortion and homosexual rights,” and for pursuing his “divisive agenda with a stridency that was unbecoming in an attorney general and [that] would be unbecoming in a governor.” At the same time, it savages Democrat Terry McAuliffe for his lack of experience, claiming that “[h]is ignorance of state government is laughable and makes Rick Perry, the notorious governor of Texas, look like a Founding Father.” Nor do they find much to like about the long-shot third party candidate Robert Sarvis, who they declare “has no experience applicable to the governorship, period.”

Up in Jersey, the Star-Ledger editorial board found itself frustrated with the major-party candidates as well. It maintains that Chris Christie is “overrated” and that “[h]is spin is way ahead of his substance”:

[H]is achievements have been only modest. He signed an important reform to contain pension and health costs, but it was mostly done before he arrived. He signed a useful tenure reform last year, but it is a weak version that still protects bad teachers with seniority. His reorganization of the higher education system is promising, but untested. Balance that against his measurable failures, and you have to conclude he is much better at politics than he is at governing.

The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment, draining $1 billion from clean energy funds and calling a cease-fire in the state’s fight against climate change.

The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper. He has no plan to finance transit projects and open space purchases now that he has nearly drained the dedicated funds he inherited from Gov. Jon Corzine.

His ego is entertaining, but it’s done damage as well. By removing two qualified justices from the Supreme Court without good cause, he threatened the independence of judges at all levels, and provoked a partisan stalemate that has left two vacant seats on the high court. This was a power grab gone wrong.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Barbara Buono, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, is, in the judgment of the board, a “deeply flawed candidate”:

Buono’s close alliance with the teachers union is a threat to the progress Christie is making in cities such as Newark and Camden. She is hostile to charter schools, which now educate nearly 1 in 4 kids in Newark.

An authoritative national study showed that students in the charters are learning more… [y]et Buono cannot bring herself to acknowledge that the charters have helped. She sponsored a bill that would basically slam the brakes on new charters by requiring voter approval of each one. She is making a status quo argument in the face of persistent failure.

Buono opposes the Newark teacher contract, which freezes the pay of the worst teachers and grants bonuses to the best. She wants a traditional union deal, in which no distinction is made… Her alliance with the unions would also threaten progress made in containing the cost of public workers. She voted against the pension and health care reform, and supports the practice of allowing public workers to accumulate pay for unused sick days. She would cap the total at $7,500, but even that reveals a mindset that is discouraging.

Another big concern: Buono lacks the strategic savvy to be a successful governor. She commands little respect among fellow Democrats, who have abandoned her in droves, with nearly 50 elected officials endorsing Christie. She is a loner in the Senate who derides political bargains as “back-room deals.”

I mentioned earlier that one of the two newspapers weighed in on its state’s race, and the other explained why it wouldn’t. I’ve already identified the Times-Dispatch as the one that refused to endorse. Yet how could the Star-Ledger have chosen between a state executive who is “better at politics than he is at governing” and a challenger who “lacks the strategic savvy” to do the job? Somehow, it did:

[O]ur endorsement goes to Christie, despite the deep reservations. He has refused to speak with The Star-Ledger editorial board for four years, the first governor in either party to do so. But we are shaking off that insult because our duty is to the readers, and our goal is to help them decide which button to push. In her editorial board meeting, Buono simply did not make the case.

If this is an endorsement, it’s one of the most tepid endorsements that I’ve ever seen. Moreover, it’s astonishing that it comes despite the acknowledgment that the candidate being endorsed “refused to speak with the editorial board for four years.”

It isn’t as if the board had no other option. It could have chosen to endorse one of the half-dozen minor-party candidates for governor (although presumably not LaRouche supporter and Glass-Steagall enthusiast Diane Sare, who appeared as a heckler at the second gubernatorial debate, or perennial candidate and noted paranoiac Jeff Boss, who I spotted last week working the crowds in Port Authority). Such a move would be far from unprecedented: in 2009, the board endorsed independent Chris Daggett, who ultimately garnered less than 6% of the vote. To be sure, there is no alternative this time around polling as well as Daggett, who had hit 20% in some pre-election surveys. But fears about encouraging people to “waste” their vote by aiding and abetting a potential spoiler clearly didn’t factor into the Ledger’s decision last time; why should they have done so now?

All of this led me to wonder: do newspaper editorial boards have a duty as journalists to endorse candidates? Is opting to sit out a race an abdication of their responsibility to keep the electorate informed? I suppose even non-endorsements can keep people informed, by making them aware of the specific reasons why neither candidate deserves their vote. But in the long run, won’t this simply reinforce voter frustrations, and cause even fewer people to want to participate in the democratic process?

I don’t have a definite opinion about whether such a duty exists. Obviously newspapers shouldn’t intentionally behave in ways that make disillusionment with American politics even more widespread than it already is, but who is to say that anyone should urge others to vote for a particular candidate if they cannot themselves do so “in good conscience,” as the Times-Dispatch put it? I’ll refrain from making a judgment about whether the editors in Richmond handled their dilemma (or rather, trilemma) better than the editors in Newark, but I will say this: the Times-Dispatch marshaled far better arguments in support of its decision.

The Ledger, immediately after arguing that Buono is a hopelessly weak challenger, vitiates its own case by laying the blame for her lackluster candidacy on the powers that be in the NJ Democratic Party and by emphasizing all of the issues on which it believes she has the upper hand:

If this is the end for Buono, remember that she didn’t lose this on her own: The Democratic Party punted on this race. Its major players were scared to challenge Christie, and only Buono showed the conviction to stand up to him. If anyone should be ashamed in the wake of the crushing defeat the polls predict, it is the lethargic and compromised party establishment, not the lone woman who took up the challenge.

Buono has long been a sturdy voice for progressive causes. She was a key player in establishing paid family leave, protections against bullying and revamping the school aid formula. As governor, she would allow gay couples to marry, raise the minimum wage and stop the baseless attacks on the courts. She would raise taxes on incomes greater than $1 million, and restore at least some of the property tax rebates that Christie cut. She would also restore funding for Planned Parenthood, and sign strong gun legislation. On each of those issues, we are with her.

Doesn’t this contradict, or, at the very least, seriously problematize, the claim that Buono lacks “strategic savvy”? The motivation for endorsing Christie becomes even more of a puzzle when the board admits that it’s pulling for a man who holds positions that it hopes are never translated into policy:

The endorsement of Christie comes with the hope that Democrats hold control of the Legislature to contain his conservative instincts. It is especially important that Democrats hold the Senate to block him from remaking the Supreme Court in his image, a move that would doom urban schools and affordable housing efforts.

I actually agree with most of the Ledger’s substantive critiques of Buono, especially on education policy, and I would never claim that the decision to endorse Christie was an indefensible one. Yet the evidence the editors present does not support the case being made – and might even support the case that no case should have been made at all. I’ve quoted liberally from the article because I really do think it’s a remarkable piece. By the end, its main thesis comes to look like a complete non sequitur.

It’s hard to say whether newspaper endorsements really matter all that much anymore, given that we live in a time when journalism has been radically disrupted by smartphones and the Internet and when few media outlets are able to speak loud enough to be heard over the cacophony. But as the media become more self-consciously political and the echo chambers of right and left become further isolated from one another, the need for reporters and editorialists who will straightforwardly present the facts and guide the voters in making an educated choice – even if they don’t do so in the form of official endorsements – becomes perhaps more vital than ever before.