Nate Silver, famous for his eerily accurate election predictions, is dumping the Gray Lady for the network of Keith Olbermann. The math wizard is taking his FiveThirtyEight blog — which was a must-read during the 2012 presidential election — and jumping ship to ESPN, reports his former co-worker Brian Stelter in The Times. Silver will now write and crunch numbers for the sports network while also "most likely" contributing to Keith Olbermann's new show, according to the Times report. In what is a classic Times-ian understatement, Stelter writes, "[Silver's] departure will most likely be interpreted as a blow to the company."
To which one might say: ya think?
Rarely does a free agent transaction in media garner this much attention. But we are talking about the University of Chicago-trained number-cruncher who nailed the last two presidential elections (not to mention down-ticket contests). His ability to bring eyeballs to the site was enormous, as TechCrunch reports:
At one point during the fall election news cycle, Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog accounted for more than 20 percent of all visits to the entire New York Times website and 71 percent of all politics visits to the Times’ site.
Most expected him to stay within the Gray Lady's walls, building a franchise akin to Andrew Ross Sorkin's Dealbook empire. Executive editor Jill Abramson joked that Silver "has his own tower now," at the Times, while speaking at Business Insider's Ignite conference last November, practically issuing him a blank check upon his return.
And he seems to have been generally content at the paper. He said as much in emails from late last year to The Atlantic Wire: "There are many wonderful things about The Times, including Jill, and I appreciate her kind words," he told us back then (Silver was unavailable for comment this evening). Silver's contract was up in August, and he had reportedly been in the midst of negotiations.
But don't worry, it's not like Silver completely abandoning his political affiliation now that he's living in the land of Baseball Tonight and Monday Night Football: Stelter reports Silver will contribute to ABC News' election coverage, too. Considering that he first gained attention as a young wizard of baseball statistics, it's not surprising that he wants to leave politics for the playing fields of professional sport. Stelter says as much in his report: "At public events recently, he has expressed interest in covering sports more frequently, so the ESPN deal is a logical next step."
The FiveThirtyEight blog existed before the Times started paying a "licensing" fee in 2010. Founded in 2008, FiveThirtyEight previously found its home at the Daily Kos and the Baseball Prospectus. So, clearly, this isn't the first time Silver has published under a sports related umbrella. But Silver's name has become so synonymous with political predictions since he got his start working with the mathematicians who turned baseball on its head that some find it hard to believe he'll continue writing about politics at all.
But signing with the Times gave Silver's little blogging operation the flint and fuel to grow the operations into the date-crunching behemoth you know today. What this move means for the greater FiveThirtyEight staff, and writers like Micah Cohen and John Sides who contribute regularly, remains unclear at this time.
Silver's relationship with the paper was "tense at times," as Stelter acknowledges. Foremost in that category was almost certainly a paid position as a consultant that created a potential conflict of interest. Silver severed that arrangement after it was reported by Gawker.
His book The Signal and the Noise was well-received, with The Times offering it restrained praise, though it noted that "though some conservatives have been critical of his methods during this election cycle." Now they can pick on him for his baseball predictions, too.