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Nate Silver Leaves The New York Times

July 23, 2013

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If you love politics, you naturally also love Nate Silver.  His FiveThirtyEight site was the ultimate insider’s guide to the political landscape of elections and probable outcomes.   He has long been on my blog roll.  I admire how he does his job, and also how he came out as a gay man.   This past week it was made known that Silver moved to ESPN and ABC News, leaving behind the “Grey Lady”.  Many of us will miss him at the Time’s site, but are heartened to know he is still going to be using his skills while in a new business venture.

Meanwhile the Times has a few words to report about the backstory that made for the change.  The Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, weighed in with the following.

In short, I found him a thoroughly decent person, generous with his time and more likely than not to take the high road in personal interactions.

I also had many conversations about him with journalists in The Times’s newsroom.

So, without promising any huge amount of insight, I’ll make a few observations:

* I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.

His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” Of course, The Times is equally known for its in-depth and investigative reporting on politics.

His approach was to work against the narrative of politics – the “story” – and that made him always interesting to read. For me, both of these approaches have value and can live together just fine.

* A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.

Many others, of course, in The Times’s newsroom did appreciate his work and the innovation (not to mention the traffic) that he brought, and liked his humility.

* The Times tried very hard to give him a lot of editorial help and a great platform. It bent over backward to do so, and this, too, disturbed some staff members. It was about to devote a significant number of staff positions to beefing up his presence into its own mini-department.

Nate Silver hasn’t talked publicly about his decision yet.  I do know, from talking to a number of Times staff members over the past several weeks, that he was weighing the decision carefully and that it seemed, for a while, as if he would stay. This was far from a snap decision.

One Comment
  1. mlerc permalink
    July 24, 2013 10:14 AM

    Should be interesting to see how he ‘disrupts’ at ABC and ESPN…

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