SBJ/March 24-30, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Plugged In: Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEight

Last December, Neil Paine became one of the first writers hired for ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight website, which ultimately launched last week. Paine is a senior writer and analyst for the site, hired for his “statistical and technical skills” — as said by the site’s editor-in-chief, Nate Silver, when announcing Paine’s hiring. Paine also works as a basketball analytics consultant for the Atlanta Hawks. A 2009 graduate of Georgia Tech, Paine is one of the most high-profile writers to combine analytics with sports reporting.


The other day, I put out a random brainstorming session on Twitter, asking readers to give me some of their best ideas that they’d want to see us tackle at FiveThirtyEight. I got almost 100 responses to it. Almost half were things I thought could be the seed of an idea, even if it was a blog post or a quick-hit study.


Photo: ESPN
A trend in journalism:
This might sound self-serving for FiveThirtyEight, but I like the trend toward getting away from the narratives that aren’t really backed up by any evidence. The trend is looking into the data and making sure that you can prove things, especially on the sports side. We’ve seen this in conversations on television. We’re seeing win probability show up during baseball broadcasts. We’ve got OPS at the bottom-third graphics. It’s little things like those examples that raise the level of intelligence of the discussions for fans. There are still people who do good journalistic work on the sports side who are not well versed with advanced statistics. That’s going to become more mandatory as time passes.

Frequency of reading print publications?: Probably once a month. If I’m in the train station and I’m waiting for a train, I’ll pick something up. Mostly, it’s all online for me.

Prime social media sites?: Twitter’s the one that I’m most active on, just because you can get that instant feedback to your ideas. I Instagram occasionally.

The role of Twitter: I use it to keep up with what’s going on. It’s a lot easier to keep on top of news stories that are quick-breaking on Twitter than it is to wait for it to show up somewhere in one of the major outlets. I use it to joke around and go back-and-forth with some of the people in the stat community. During games, it’s excellent to get a sense for what people are thinking about something that is happening..
 
— John Ourand

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