What Nate Silver leaving means for NY Times and why he left

I blogged about the news that Nate Silver was leaving NY Times and moving to ESPN.

Tech Republic writer Marc Tracy looks at what this all means…for the NY Times and for ESPN. The NY Times loses traffic…eyeballs, that came for Nate and stayed.

Silver was the Times news section’s most recognizable politics writer. As I reported last November, in the run-up to Election Day, one-fifth of visits to nytimes.com included stops at Silver’s 538 blog. In many cases, visitors arrived at the site by searching for him. “He has been a journalist of great value to the Times in this election,” executive editor Jill Abramson told me at the time. “What’s interesting is a lot of the traffic is coming just for Nate.” (Abramson declined to comment Saturday.)

So of course it is a “blow.” But it is at least worth noting that what Silver did was never the Times’ core competency when it comes to politics. And the sort of thing that Silver grew famous for condemning, in which cable-news prognosticators discuss “narratives” while disregarding the polls that sit right in front of them, is also not a good description of what Times politics coverage does best.   

What does ESPN and Nate Silver gain?

[T]he resources and opportunities the Times can offer Silver are probably dwarfed by those that ESPN/ABC/Disney can. (The Times report implies that the deal is primarily with ESPN, but nobody has officially announced anything as of Saturday afternoon.) This isn’t just about money—although since ESPN pays mediocrities Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith well more than $1 million each year combined, it is not difficult to imagine Silver netting seven figures for himself. But consider the possibilities in terms of resources, branding, and things to cover. ESPN has built a magazine around personality Bill Simmons and is building a late-night show around personality Keith Olbermann. Its stars toggle relatively seamlessly from Web-writing to print writing to television to podcasts to radio. Maybe he would prefer to talk more about baseball and other sports? His book, The Signal and the Noise, spent extremely little time on politics. Silver is a noted poker buff; guess which network airs the World Series of Poker? And so on.

People follow personalities not mastheads. It will be a big blow to the NY Times. Andrew Sullivan notes;

It’s a big blow to the NYT, and another sign of how a few highly visible and talented individuals in media can increasingly set their own terms for which ship to attach themselves to, or, at some point, strike out entirely on their own. It makes a lot of sense for Nate to do sports alongside politics. It’s what he cut his teeth on and what he loves. Josh Marshall notes that, during election years, “Nate will do his politics and polling stuff for ABC News,” which is owned by ESPN parent company Disney.


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