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Should newspapers employ a statistical analysis person?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Dick Whitman, Oct 30, 2011.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    A story in the Chicago Tribune today serves as a rudimentary introduction to Theo Epstein's use of advanced statistical analysis in team-building, and to sabermetrics in general:


    I'm sure that those who inhabit sits like Hardball Times and Baseball Think Factory would find the article laughably simplified, as well as about two decades too late. That is no knock against the writer. In fact, it leads me into my question.

    Baseball writers like Dave van Dyck are paid to cover the clubhouse and the front office, along with the action on the field. They aren't economists. They aren't data analysts. They should have some familiarity with advanced stats, but should no more be expected to be fluent in them than the guys at BTF should be expected to be working clubhouse sources.

    For years, the argument has raged in here and other places about whether statistical analysis bloggers were making traditional access-drive reporters irrelevant. I think the answer is yes and no. I think access is still necessary to break stories, write features, etc., etc. On the other hand, I feel like there are often too many inches wasted on banal day-to-day feed-the-beast coverage, when there is some sharp insight and analysis being neglected - or, worse, conceded to independent Web sites.

    It's funny. A few days ago, I was rummaging through some of my old h.s. journalism workshop handouts. One was on sports writing. In bold print, it said: "Use statistics very, very judiciously. Avoid them whenever possible. The focus should be on people and events, not statistics!" That was a drumbeat I heard throughout high school, college, and my years in the business. And I think it ended up biting us all in the ass, and continues to.

    Particularly in big baseball markets like Chicago, is it time for papers to start devoting space to sabermetric-fluent writers as a complement to traditional reporting? Full-time staffer? Freelance basis? Advisory role to traditional reporters? In the alternative, should sports editors start demanding that their baseball guys acquaint themselves with this stuff and convey it to readers to a greater degree than they have?

    What think you?

    YGBFKM Guest

    Newspapers employ plenty of saps.
  3. Bubbler

    Bubbler Well-Known Member

    Yes. I can see newspapers hire this niche position in this hiring climate. C'mon.
  4. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    That's why I mentioned the possibility of a free lancer. What I'm getting at is, do you have to find a way? Reallocate resources to find a way?
  5. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    And is it really a "niche" any more? A lot of what is being written in this area is far more relevant than another notebook item about a wrapped ankle.

    Anyway, with that, I will hang up and listen to your responses.
  6. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    I personally don't think in this climate, with much more basic positions wanting at every newspaper, that this is a "find a way" job, full-time, freelance, contract, whatever. This is a luxury hire, and no newspaper is doing those right now.
  7. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    It's not necessary. It's a niche interest.

    If it creates an important concept, you can explain the concept without getting deep into the statistics.

    And I seriously doubt Epstein uses any of the statistics mentioned in that article.
  8. doctorquant

    doctorquant Well-Known Member

    Well, I have substantial expertise in statistics and business. Further, I have experience as a beat writer from way back when and could still put together credible -- not flashy, but professionally competent -- gamers, features and the like. Those of you "in the biz," what do you think about my chances as a potential occasional contributor? Would a big-city daily be interested in having someone with my skillset available (on a free-lance basis) in the bullpen?
  9. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    I agree with this 80 percent. *

    * It was going to be 110 percent, but I had to adjust due to cutbacks.
  10. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    I think that some astute outlet might use you as a contributor, but might not be a daily newspaper (there might be one looking for this now and then, weekly or whatever, if the price is right. But it it will be tough).
  11. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    Yes. And bring back the bridge column!
  12. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Let's face it: Most newspapers aren't going to hire any new positions for any reason.

    Should more baseball beat writers become fluent in sabermetric concepts? Of course. (Then, hopefully, we won't have to read poorly constructed articles like the one above, which repeat the inane idea that sabermetrics is all about drawing/glorifying walks.) Should they be able to download stats from the Baseball Databank and manipulate a basic spreadsheet? Well, every journalist probably should be able to do that, but that's another story.

    So how can baseball writers become more fluent in sabermetrics? The same way they learn about anything else: Read a lot and listen a lot. Go back and read "The Hidden Game of Baseball" (Thorn/Palmer). Read "The Book" (Tango/Lichtman/Dolphin). Read "Baseball Between The Numbers" (Keri/BP).

    No time for books? Add Rob Neyer at Baseball Nation, Christina Kahrl and Mark Simon at ESPN and FanGraphs to your RSS feed. Soak up what they write.

    Become a member of SABR ($65/year) and you get access to 6,000+ baseball experts -- and potential sources -- via the online directory. You also get to subscribe to the SABR-L e-mail listserv, which is worth the price of membership itself. You can learn so much just by reading that one e-mail a day.

    I sure wish newspapers would hire more people. But that's not realistic. What is realistic is that baseball writers, old and young, can easily learn what their team's front office people are thinking, and better cover their beat by understanding how those execs value players and how they see the game.

    Writing that "sabermetric savants like walks and hate stolen bases" is a very, very poor way of conveying how Theo Epstein and Co. will change the Cubs' baseball operations.
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