UCW goes on spring break

Thanks for reading (Un)Conventional Wisdom during its first eight months. (And if you have discovered it more recently, please check out our archives.) I am taking a couple of months off from the blog to concentrate on some long-form projects and take care of personal matters, such as finding a new place to live — always a challenge in the Northeast Corridor, but that’s a widely covered topic.

This is a good time for a hiatus, since the November midterm elections are still a good ways off. We’re already seeing predictions that change on a daily basis, and the momentum in the battle to win control of the U.S. Senate may shift from one party to the other several dozen more times. The identity of the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will change at least as often. If you miss a political trend story over the next few months, it will almost surely circle around and come back again before this fall.

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The biggest change in political journalism over the past few months has been the launch of “data-driven” websites: Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, Ezra Klein’s Vox.com, and the New York Times’s The Upshot. They’re part of a larger trend toward incorporating political science in campaign coverage, as opposed to the more traditional emphasis on personalities, strategies, and reporters’ interpretation of “vibrations” on the ground. See The Washington Post’s The Monkey Cage, the Washington Monthly’s Ten Miles Square, and the group blog The Mischiefs of Faction for good examples of poli-sci approaches to current events.

The Boston Review’s Andrew Mayersohn writes that this trend is a welcome antidote to simplistic political journalism that’s obsessed with flashy new narratives (game changers, “wave” elections, etc.). But he cautions that data-driven journalism is not immune from marketing demands: “when they too need to come up with new material on a daily basis, as FiveThirtyEight intends to do, quantitative types can fall into their own version of the same trap. To avoid repetitiveness, number crunchers can be tempted to dig ever deeper in search of Freakonomics-style hidden influences.”

So the battle over how to cover elections may be at least as exciting than the elections themselves this year. There will be plenty to write about — and maybe debunk — when I return to (Un)Conventional Wisdom.

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