Media organisations should always challenge the ‘old ways’

One man made his mark like no other in the US election race and in the process made many people look a little foolish.

Nate Silver wasn’t a name I’d heard until the afternoon (UK time) of the day of voting but his data analysis could – and should – change how all major broadcasters approach future elections.

For the days leading up to polling day, I – along with millions of others across the world – was being told by broadcasters and major news organisations that the Obama/Romney race was going to be one of the closest we’d seen. Romney’s charge in the last couple of months meant it was simply “too close to call”, said the national polls.

Then I read this piece from The Guardian, tweeted by @newsmary, and my interest in the result was taken to a new level.

I was now being told, thanks to the full analysis of a number of polls – not simply the apparently unreliable national polls – that it was Obama’s for the taking. Romney was going to come up well short.

Yet when I returned home to watch TV news specials I was still being told that it was “too close to call”. Facebook friends were concerned that Romney might reach the White House because they were being told it was “too close to call”.

Pundits on Channel 4, on BBC, on CNN and on Radio Five Live had told us the same thing yet none of them (not on the broadcasts I watched or listened to anyway) opted to quote Silver’s stats. And this is someone who correctly predicted 49 from 50 results in the 2008 election.

When I woke the next day, I wasn’t surprised to see that it had not been “too close to call” yet pundits on BBC were still telling me it had been.

Mashable has called Silver’s unerring accuracy – he correctly predicted all 50 state results – the ‘Triumph of the Nerds‘ while Paul Bradshaw tears into “data illiterate journalists” and calls the reporting an “embarrassment”.

I hope that this will signal the end of the ‘gut-feeling’ type of analysis that audiences are often limited to and it should be a wake-up call for broadcasters that the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ argument should be consigned to the cutting-room floors.

If they don’t, perhaps an IPTV station will do a better job for its audience in the 2016 election.

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