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Why Nate Silver Matters

July 23, 2013

By Greg Satell

When media first started going digital, journalists feared that they would be judged on the numbers, rather than the mastery of their craft.  To a large extent, that actually happened, but it wasn’t so bad after all.  Most were able to adjust.

So there was no small amount of irony surrounding the recent high profile negotiations between ESPN and The New York Times over the services of Nate Silver. The stakes were enormous, as Mr. Silver accounted for as much as 20% of the Grey Lady’s web traffic.

Math, it seems, has become more than a means to evaluate, but journalism itself. Whereas before, a reporter’s main tools were sources and shoe leather, now algorithms are on the job too.  Most of all, Nate Silver is a sign of the zeitgeist. In the new age of big data, math is no longer an ancillary activity, but plays a central role in helping organizations compete.

I’ve worked with a lot of very capable journalists, but creative people are a different breed.  While world-class journalists are intelligent and determined, artistic talent has an intangible element, something you can’t describe with any precision.

A lot of professionals make their living by being able to spot creative genius amongst the thousands of journeyman hopefuls.  In the recording industry these people work in A&R, in Hollywood, they are often development executives and in other places they are merely called talent scouts.

Today, however, machines are evaluating creativity as well.  Record labels use software called Music X-Ray to judge the whether a new track is likely to be a hit or a flop.  Mike McCready, its creator, has even been the subject of a HBR case study.  Another company, Epagogix, uses a similar process toevaluate screenplays for Hollywood studios.

So while legendary talent spotters like Clive Daviscontinue to thrive, increasingly creative businesses are using math to improve their chances.  An expert is no match for an expert armed with an algorithm. Read more at Forbes.

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From → Analysis, Commentary

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