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Nate Silver Leaving New York Times For ESPN, ABC

NATE-SILVER

Nate Silver, who achieved no small degree of fame over the past four years for his uncannily accurate calls in both the 2008 and 2012 Presidential races, will be leaving his position at The New York Times to take a position at ESPN and, during the political season, ABC News:

Nate Silver, the statistician who attained national fame for his accurate projections about the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, is parting ways with The New York Times and moving his FiveThirtyEight franchise to ESPN, the sports empire controlled by the Walt Disney Company, according to ESPN employees with direct knowledge of his plans.

At ESPN, Mr. Silver is expected to have a wide-ranging portfolio. Along with his writing and number-crunching, he will most likely be a regular contributor to “Olbermann,” the late-night ESPN2 talk show hosted by Keith Olbermann that will have its debut at the end of August. In political years, he will also have a role at ABC News, which is owned by Disney.

An ESPN spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday night. Mr. Silver declined to comment. The employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Silver’s deal could be announced as soon as Monday.

Before creating statistical models for elections, Mr. Silver was a baseball sabermetrician who built a highly effective system for projecting how players would perform in the future. For a time he was a managing partner of Baseball Prospectus.

At public events recently, he has expressed interest in covering sports more frequently, so the ESPN deal is a logical next step.

Mr. Silver’s three-year contract with The Times is set to expire in late August and his departure will most likely be interpreted as a blow to the company, which has promoted Mr. Silver and his brand of poll-based projections.

He gained such prominence in 2012 that President Obama joked that Mr. Silver had accurately predicted which turkeys the president would pardon that Thanksgiving. “Nate Silver completely nailed it,” he said. “The guy’s amazing.”

Speculation about the future of Mr. Silver and FiveThirtyEight heated up shortly after last November’s election, and he was wooed by no small number of other news organizations. Jill Abramson, the newspaper’s executive editor, and Mark Thompson, the chief executive of The New York Times Company, said earlier this year that they would try hard to sign Mr. Silver to a new contract.

NBC News and its cable news channel MSNBC was another interested party.

In an e-mail several weeks ago, Mr. Silver said negotiations were continuing with The Times “and I’m still trying to make a decision.” He informed The Times on Friday of his plan to leave.

As noted, Silver’s departure for ESPN is likely to return him to the world of sports statistics where he got his start, although its worth noting that his recent efforts to apply his statistical modeling to that arena, such as picking Super Bowl winners and such, has proven to be much less successful than his endeavors in the political arena. We’re also likely to see him on television far more than we used to in the past, although he did become something of media star in the run-up to the 2012 election as many on the right attempted to deflate his ultimately spot-on call of the outcome of the Presidential election. There’s no official word about what will happen to the FiveThirtyEight blog itself, although one imagines it will end up getting subsumed in someway into ABC News’s political coverage in some way in the same way that his independent blog became part of The New York Times when he moved there three years ago.

This could end up being a big hit for the Times. Shortly after last year’s election, we learned that Silver’s blog was responsible for a “significant” portion of the page views that the Times was receiving. While that statistic is likely to have changed after interest in the election ended, without Silver the Times won’t be able to count on that boost in the run up to the 2014 or 2016 elections.

The interesting thing to watch will be how Silver and Olbermann work together, especially since one of the stipulations that Olbermann agreed to regarding his new ESPN show is that he won’t be discussing politics at all.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    One imagines that the NYT will hire another stats guy to try to replicate Silver’s impact. I’m dubious that it’ll work. It’s not that blogging the polls—or even predicting outcomes of races from polling data—is that hard but that making it interesting to the masses is.

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  2. @James Joyner:

    After all the press that Silver got in the wake of the 2012 election, I’m expecting we’ll see several news outlets try to bring in their own stats person. It will become the latest wave in horserace coverage, and it will become just as bad as the regular horserace coverage has become of late.

    But yea, it’s hard to make lightning strike twice and Silver has succeeded in no small part because he made it all seem interesting.

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  3. superdestroyer says:

    Maybe this is a sign that with so few competitve elections in the future, Silver was smart enough to realize that there is no future in predicting routs and blow outs in the future.

    Reporting on politics in the future will become boring when the issues are things like the bankruptcy of Detroit, low level scandals, and how to fund growing entitlements. Why would anyone want to pursue a career in that?

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  4. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I think in the future its going to be standard to have a quant on the national news teams covering national elections. S o look for more stats guys.
    Sam Wang
    is the likeliest candidate to replace Silver at the NYT, according to the folks over at Balloon Juice. Apparently he was as accurate as Silver-just not as well known.
    I think that one can truly say that election race commentary can be divided into pre- Silver and post-Silver eras.No one will now take seriously any pundit who speculates on the basis of “gut feelings” or his experience or whatever. From here on numbers are king.

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  5. superdestroyer says:

    @stonetools:

    But if there are few if any competitive elections, why bother with the numbers. And how long will it take and how much money will need to be spent to develop accurate polling for Democratic Party primaries that will be the real election in the future. Given how easily it looks like Democrats such as Booker, Markey, Weiner, and Spitzer are going to win, why really pay attention to elections?

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  6. Kylopod says:

    What I’ve always liked most about Silver’s writings is not his uncannily accurate predictions but his emphasis on data as a first step to examining questions that most pundits immediately fall back on gut feeling to answer. His most recent post is an excellent example of this. The success of his electoral predictions have helped wake some people up to the value of an empirical approach to politics, but ultimately it’s his analyses which I find the most enlightening, and why he’s one of the only NYT commentators I regularly read. It’s to the NYT’s loss that he’s leaving.

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