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Damn, We Wish We’d Written These 17 Stories

Long ago, Bloomberg News started publishing a “Jealousy List” at the end of the year — the stories Bloomberg staffers wish they had published. It’s an idea so good it made us — what’s that word? — envious.

So we decided imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Here are the stories other folks published in 2019 that made the FiveThirtyEight staff turn a bit green.


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“Quiz: Let Us Predict Whether You’re a Democrat or a Republican”

By Sahil Chinoy, The New York Times

Chinoy’s visual and interactive exploration of the characteristics that can predict someone’s political party affiliation is not only engaging and visually striking, but also insightful about the factors driving divisions in American politics. Users can answer yes-or-no questions about themselves to see how strongly these characteristics change their predicted party affiliation, then explore how the country as a whole answered the same questions. This approach visualizes how identity-driven politics have widened our political divides.

— Ryan Best, visual journalist

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“How Unpredictable Is Your Subway Commute? We’ll Show You”

By Josh Katz and Kevin Quealy, The New York Times

One thing we at FiveThirtyEight love to think about — and sometimes struggle to do — is how to show uncertainty in our data. This subway variability calculator is fun to play with, but it also does a great job showing how and why the variability of an estimate (in this case, your commute time) matters.

— Laura Bronner, quantitative editor

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“The Plague Years: How the rise of right-wing nationalism is jeopardizing the world’s health”

By Maryn McKenna, The New Republic

This piece tying together politics and public health is a masterful exploration of how nationalist movements, suspicion of expertise, and anti-immigrant fervor can impact things like vaccination campaigns and efforts to stop ebola outbreaks.

— Maggie Koerth, senior science writer

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“Pedro Martinez Pitched the Greatest Season Ever. Then He Did It Again.”

By Foolish Baseball

One of my favorite baseball storytellers of the year is a YouTuber who goes by Foolish Baseball. In 2019 he began to regularly post videos about a bunch of different sabermetric topics: Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame case, the theory that Ichiro could hit home runs if he wanted to, Albert Pujols’s incredible slowness and Juan Soto’s ridiculous early-career numbers. But I think my favorite might be this one, about Pedro Martínez’s 1999 and 2000 seasons, which each might be the best in MLB history. It’s been fun to watch someone merge data and analysis with the medium of YouTube, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does — in his distinctive 8-bit style — in 2020.

— Neil Paine, senior sportswriter

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“Journey to power: The history of black voters, 1976 to 2020”

By Steve Kornacki, NBC News

With a little over a month to go before the Iowa caucuses and the primary race still very much in flux, here’s an important stat to keep in mind: Since 1992, no Democratic candidate has won the presidential nomination without also winning a majority of the black vote. In July, Steve Kornacki and NBC News dug deep into the archives to assemble the first publicly available data set of how black Americans have voted in each of the nine competitive national Democratic campaigns since 1976, and as you can read for yourself in the 10-part series, the importance of African Americans in the Democratic primary cannot be overestimated. In 2016, black voters made up nearly a quarter of the Democratic primary electorate and they could make up an even larger percentage in 2020, so chances are they’ll be crucial once again in deciding the party’s nominee.

— Sarah Frostenson, politics editor

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“The Border Between Red and Blue America”

By Robert Gebeloff, The New York Times

Urban vs. suburban vs. rural has become one of the most important divides in politics, yet it’s surprisingly hard to measure a place’s density. Robert Gebeloff at the New York Times’ The Upshot made a big contribution to this in October by assigning individual census tracts a neighborhood density score from 1 to 10. It’s a great complement to CityLab’s Congressional Density Index from 2018 — less comprehensive, but more granular.

— Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst

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Black Voters to Black Candidates: Representation Is Not Enough”

By Astead W. Herndon, The New York Times

This is not a data story. But it clearly showed a knowledge of the data on black voting patterns. And it showed a real depth in writing about black voters (note that Herndon refers to Biden being supported by more moderate and older black people, not just black people) and racial issues (he captured why being black was not enough to voters who were looking for more).

— Perry Bacon Jr., senior politics writer

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“Where Boeing’s 737 Max Planes Go When They’re Grounded”

By Dean Halford, Lauren Leatherby, David Ingold and Justin Bachman, Bloomberg

The Bloomberg Graphics team used sharp visual animation to show where all Boeing 737 Max jets across the United States went after they were grounded back in March. This piece also offers insight into how airlines dealt with the grounding of these jets, which Boeing will stop producing in January.

— Ryan Best, visual journalist

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“Trump relies on acting Cabinet officials more than most presidents. It’s not an accident.”

By Philip Bump, The Washington Post

We’ve written a few times about how President Trump has had more Cabinet turnover than any modern president — and in so doing, I noticed that Trump has had an awful lot of “acting” Cabinet members. But before I could do the historical research to write about it, Philip Bump of The Washington Post had already done so. As of April, Trump was employing acting Cabinet members at a much faster rate than any of his recent predecessors.

— Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst

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“108 Women’s World Cup Players on Their Jobs, Money and Sacrificing Everything”

By Allison McCann, The New York Times

The Women’s World Cup happened last summer and the U.S. Women’s National Team dominated, breaking all kinds of records. Near the start of the tournament, former FiveThirtyEighter Allison McCann had this piece in The New York Times that made me very jealous. The Times had sent a survey to the teams participating in this year’s World Cup and had given players cameras to document their lives. The end product was wonderful and poignant.

— Meena Ganesan, social editor

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“A tactical breakdown of the Democratic Presidential candidate soccer team”

By Kim McCauley, SBNation

Back in early October, this tweet took over soccer Twitter for half a day:

We couldn’t stop thinking about Elizabeth Warren as a striker, Joe Biden as a fullback or how this particular field fits in a 4-3-3 formation. This is the kind of debate FiveThirtyEight should be a part of, in my humble opinion, which is why I was so jealous when Kim McCauley was able to jump on this topic so quickly and publish a breakdown of the formation and how each candidate would perform in his/her position. It was perfect.

— Tony Chow, video producer

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“How New York’s Elite Public Schools Lost Their Black and Hispanic Students”

By Eliza Shapiro and K.K. Rebecca Lai, The New York Times

This deep dive into the changing racial composition in New York’s specialized public high schools is fascinating and thorough; one thing that struck me in particular is how well it contextualizes the changes in specialized schools by comparing them to the share of all students in the city’s school system.

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“A Nobel-Winning Economist Goes to Burning Man”

By Emily Badger, The New York Times

What’s not to love about this playful story from Emily Badger of The New York Times, which explores the challenges and opportunities of urban planning in the developing world through the eyes of Paul Romer, an economist looking for lessons in the “instant city” that emerges every year at the famous festival in the Nevada desert? It’s a fresh and compelling exploration of a knotty (and nerdy) policy topic — something that’s certainly not easy to pull off.

— Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, politics writer

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“Yes, the baseball is different — again. An astrophysicist examines this year’s baseballs and breaks down the changes”

By Meredith Wills, The Athletic

Astrophysicist and baseball enthusiast Meredith Wills deconstructed baseballs down to their cores to try to understand what role the ball was playing in the game’s home run surge. What she found was something of a smoking gun: The ball is much different, from the smoothness of the leather to the length of material used in seams.

— Travis Sawchik, sportswriter

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How the New Primary Calendar Changes the Contest for Democrats”

By Nate Cohn, The New York Times

I wish I’d written this piece because it synthesizes some points I’ve made in a couple articles so far this year, such as how representative the Super Tuesday states are of the Democratic primary electorate as a whole. It also digs into the shifts in the delegate calendar compared to 2016 and has some nice charts!

— Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst

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“Methane Is a Vast, Invisible Climate Menace. We Made It Visible.”

By Jonah M. Kessel and Hiroko Tabuchi

I love this recent New York Times story that used a specialized camera to spot otherwise-invisible methane leaks at oil refineries. Such a cool use of technology in the service of exposing a hidden side of the climate problem.

— Maggie Koerth, senior science writer

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“The Great Flood of 2019: A Complete Picture of a Slow-Motion Disaster”

By Sarah Almukhtar, Blacki Migliozzi, John Schwartz and Josh Williams, The New York Times

I’m not just jealous of this composite look at flooding in the U.S. in 2019 because of its blend of mapping, reporting and imagery, though all that compellingly reveals the scope of an environmental disaster that, since it takes place in many locations at different times, might otherwise be difficult to demonstrate. I’m also jealous of the sheer ambition and amount of work that must have gone into it — to take on a complex issue and find the best possible way to show a full picture of it regardless of the challenge is what great visual journalism should aspire to be.

— Ella Koeze, visual journalist

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