It takes a village to replace Nate Silver

Lynn-Vavreck-ucla.jpgThe New York Times has been building a new politics and data team to replace Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog, and last week the team leader — former Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt — revealed some new names in a newsroom memo and on Twitter. The local angle is that UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck will be a regular contributor to the politics vertical. She "is already well known to politics aficionados," Leonhardt wrote, per Capital New York. "She has written several smart pieces for The Times and is the author, with John Sides, of 'The Gamble,' a book about the 2012 campaign. Listen to the raves: Ryan Lizza called the book 'mandatory reading.' Nate Silver called it 'the definitive account' of the campaign. Ezra Klein said the book 'should change how we cover campaigns.'"

Other outside contributors added last week were Harvard behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan. They join the previously named presidential historian Michael Beschloss, Bloomberg View columnist and Brookings Institute economics fellow Justin Wolfers, the New Republic's Nate Cohn and visual journalism specialist Amanda Cox.

Silver's data analysis blog became part of the New York Times during the 2012 presidential campaign and his work brought the Times a lot of attention, as well as created some internal tension in the newsroom. Last July Silver announced that rather than extend his deal with the NYT, he would leave and join ABC News and ESPN to do data analysis on politics and sports. On Friday Silver posted that he has completed the hiring of his initial team of editors and writers, and is looking for more data-driven freelance contrbutors.

Leonhardt last week also announced some NYT staffers who will move within the paper to join the political website team. Here's the top of his newsroom memo:

Late last year, Jill announced that we would be creating a new politics-and-policy website with a focus on data, and I want to update everyone on our progress. Our goal is to use a conversational style to demystify politics, economics, health care and other issues. We will publish a steady stream of pieces on a website within nytimes.com, some of which will run in the paper, and also create many graphics and interactive tools. As a model, think of the multimedia package that ran last summer on upward mobility or the 2010 deficit puzzle.


I'm thrilled to announce a stellar new group of journalists and contributors who have joined the team:

Laura Chang and Damon Darlin join us as the two editors who will help to run the venture. They are a dream team for this work. Laura spent seven years running our world-beating Science desk and has most recently run the Booming blog. She's known as an intensely smart and calming editor with a particular talent for melding words and graphics. A Seattle native and graduate of (as they say there) U-Dub, Laura joins Nate Cohn in our group's ex-pat Pacific Northwesterner caucus.

Damon, now the international business editor, comes to us originally from the Midwest — Dubuque, Iowa — by way of journalistic stints in Asia, Washington and across the U.S. At The Times, he has written an engaging personal-finance column, played a pivotal role in the launch of The International New York Times and, as technology editor, helped make the Bits blog such a success. Damon is the classic early adopter (check out his robot vacuum cleaner) who brings the mix of rigor and imagination that we want. He'll start work in New York before moving to Washington later this year.

Josh Katz becomes the second trained statistician to join the group (along with Amanda Cox). Josh joined the graphics department as an intern last summer, after graduate school at N.C. State, and reeled off an impressive series of graphics on many subjects. Oh, yes: he's also responsible for the most visited page in the history of The New York Times website, the famed dialect quiz. Josh conceived of the project and developed its algorithm. He's from South Jersey, enjoys the occasional hoagie and has yet to visit a brew-thru.

Kevin Quealy has spent much of his six years at The Times making me and other colleagues look more talented than we are. He is the creative force behind some of our most successful interactive projects, including the still-popular rent-vs-buy calculator, the deficit puzzle, the 100-meter dash video and the NYT 4th Down Bot. A graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College (physics), the Peace Corps (South Africa) and the University of Missouri (journalism), Kevin will be the first to tell you that all of his projects here have been collaborative efforts, and they were. But don't let his Minnesota humility fool you: He's one of the sharpest journalists I've ever met.

Derek Willis is the intellectual father of The Times' Interactive News department. So says Aron Pilholfer, who runs that department. Derek's groundbreaking work at The Washington Post helped persuade The Times to create an Interactive department — and Derek has since helped Aron build that department into the industry's best. A former CQ writer with a reporter's instinct and a developer's mind, Derek has been central to The Times's breathtaking election-night coverage, the success of 538 when it was here and many other things. "I couldn't do my job without him," says Nick Confessore. Perhaps Derek's greatest accomplishment, though, came in college, when his column in the University of Florida student newspaper led coach Steve Spurrier to call him "a punk and a jerk." If you know Derek, you see the humor in this.

Our most recent addition is Darcy Eveleigh, whom many people around the paper know as a highly creative photo editor. Five years ago, she took a trip to the Times Photo Archive and, as she says, "soon found myself spending every spare moment lost in the picture collection." Her adventures there led to the "Lively Morgue," which has grown into a Tumblr with 88,000 followers. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Staten Island, now living with her family in Manhattan, she will work with Michael Beschloss and guide our site's photography. As I've said before, history — what the past tells us about the present and future — will play a central role in our work, making Darcy an excellent member of our team.

UCLA photo of Lynn Vavreck


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It takes a village to replace Nate Silver
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