Friday it came out that statistical wunderkind Nate Silver would be leaving The New York Times at the end of his contract to move his highly acclaimed FiveThirtyEight blog to ESPN, with some politics work at sister network ABC.
Frankly, the move is brilliant for several reasons.
Silver first got public attention after he sold his sabermetric PECOTA model to Baseball Prospectus. His interest originally lay in the statistical modeling of sports. His leap into politics came when he realized that writing about actual statistical facts about politics in lieu of pundits' gut reactions was something the American electorate secretly craved.
Still, after two consecutive presidential elections called with impeccable accuracy, it's understandable that Silver may want to spend the next years focusing on sports instead of the daily play-by-play of Congress' "will-they-or-won't-they" relationship with passing legislation.
Anyway, there are a ton of excellent reasons for Silver to jump ship from the Times to ESPN. Here are a few of them:
First, this is a massive audience increase.
While Silver went mainstream at the Times, at ESPN he'll have a larger audience than the Grey Lady could ever hope to offer.
Just take a second and look at the search volume difference between "New York Times" and "ESPN."
Not even close. More importantly, that gap is getting even wider.
During the election, Silver was pulling in one in five of the site's inbound views. He's outgrown The New York Times, and if he wants to boost his own audience, ESPN is the promotion he needs.
Even more, ESPN the company seems like a better place to be than The New York Times Company.
And, while the pile of money and job security Nate Silver would receive for writing would likely be remarkable regardless of whether he's writing in Bristol or New York, Bristol seems to be on more even footing.
The New York Times has been trying to cut overhead and buy out employees for years. Photos of the Times newsroom gathering to say goodbye to esteemed editors the paper can no longer afford have become common on Twitter at this point.
People mostly seem to leave ESPN when they're in the middle of a sordid sex scandal.
Plus, while Silver will continue publishing things on the internet, he'll also get a huge bump in his supplemental platform by transitioning from one of the places Americans no longer get their news from — newspapers — to where most Americans get their news from, Network (ABC) and Cable (ESPN).
Take a look at this chart from MPO Research to see why dumping print in favor of Network and Cable is a huge upgrade:
Plus, it's clear that Silver likes to write about sports, and he wasn't getting the range to write about them at the Times as much as he was when he was an independent.
Between February 24, 2008 and August 29, 2010 — the 30 months of its run — Silver wrote 43 posts tagged "sports" at his previous independent site, FiveThirtyEight.com. From August 25 to now — the 35 months he's spent at the Times — Silver has only been able to write 27 posts tagged "sports," and many of these were videos discussing his own articles.
What this means is that when he was flying solo, Silver penned an average of 1.43 sports posts per month. At the Times, he only wrote 0.77 sports posts per month.
At ESPN, it's reasonable to assume he's going to be given a wider berth to write about sports in lieu of politics, which may be exactly what Silver is looking for in the boring years between presidential elections.
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