The Favorite Math Whiz Of The Blogosphere Moves On Up

Brian Stelter at NYT:

The New York Times said Thursday that it would begin hosting the popular blog FiveThirtyEight and make its founder, Nate Silver, a regular contributor to the newspaper and the Sunday magazine.

Beth Rooney for the New York Times Nate Silver

Mr. Silver, a statistical wizard, became a media star during the last presidential election season for his political projections based on dissections of polling data. He retains all rights to FiveThirtyEight and will continue to run it himself, but “under the banner and auspices of NYTimes.com,” The Times said in a news release.

The arrangement is similar to one The Times struck with the authors of the blog Freakonomics in 2007. The Freakonomics blog appears in the Opinion section of NYTimes.com. FiveThirtyEight content will be incorporated in the politics section of NYTimes.com.

Along with his contributions to the newspaper and The Times Magazine, Mr. Silver will also work with the journalists and software developers who create interactive graphics for NYTimes.com.

“Nate won considerable recognition during the 2008 presidential campaign for his timely and prescient reports on the electoral races and on public opinion,” Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said in a statement. “We look forward to his unique perspectives on statistics, covering a wide swath of issues relating to politics, culture and sports.”

Before making a name for himself with political calculations, Mr. Silver’s specialty was baseball statistics. In 2002 he sold a predictive system he had built, called Pecota, to Baseball Prospectus. He was a managing partner at Baseball Prospectus until he stepped down in March 2009.

Nate Silver:

There are two particular reasons why we felt the Times was the best home for FiveThirtyEight. On the one hand, I very much see what we are doing as a type of journalism, in the sense that it consists of doing original research on a timely basis to help inform the public discourse. Thus, the Times’ unflinching commitment to quality journalism makes for a natural fit, and I expect that the relationship will evolve in exciting ways as FiveThirtyEight is incorporated into a “traditional” newsroom setting. On the other hand, the terrific work of their graphic and interactive journalists was a major draw. The new blog should look and feel great, and should be substantially more robust and feature-rich than the simple, one-page design that we have now.

I’d like to thank my colleagues at FiveThirtyEight, and my attorney, Steve Sheppard, to say nothing of the countless friends and family members whose patience I tested as the discussions were ongoing. There are also a number of people to thank at the Times, first and foremost Jim Roberts, but also Gerald Marzorati, Bill Keller, Megan Liberman, and Brian Ernst, among others. This all happened somewhat serendipitously, growing out of a conversation that I had with Gerald when I ran into him on a Amtrak platform in Boston ten weeks ago.

Although we have not settled on an exact date, the partnership will most likely launch officially in about 9 or 10 weeks — that is, in very early August. Until that time, I will be posting on a reduced schedule, as I focus on facilitating the transition and on bringing my book project substantially toward completion. Our other writers will continue to post as normal during this interim period.

Ben Smith at Politico:

There’s no doubt that Silver raised the level of sophistication in the conversation about polling last cycle, and he’s a great addition for the paper.

But the Stelter story, and Times release, remind me of my recent piece on how The Washington Post wandered into its role as a hub of liberal blogs either by accident or through a kind of willful blindness: The story, and announcement, appear to contain no mention of Silver’s politics, which are fairly central to his online identity, and the words “liberal” and “progressive” appear nowhere in the Times’s announcement.

That strikes me as odd. Silver, like the Post’s bloggers, is one of a new group of journalists who aim to replace the studied neutrality old MSM types like me practice with an openness about their political views. He examined his own in an item defining himself as a “rational progressive” and wrote elsewhere that he’s not registered to a political party but supported Barack Obama in 2008.

I’m not sure why the Times would avoid saying that they’ve hired a respected online liberal voice, rather than just some kind of numbers guru with a “unique perspective.”

UPDATE: Stelter says it was an “unintentional omission,” and he quickly remedied it with the sentences, “Mr. Silver said on his Web site in 2008 that he was a supporter of President Obama. ‘I vote for Democratic candidates the majority of the time (though by no means always),’ he wrote at the time.” The press release remains unchanged.

Greg Sargent:

I don’t know why The Times neglected to advertise Silver’s liberalism. But this goes to a larger point: The fear big news orgs have of letting fact-based and ideologically-motivated journalism mix and mingle wth one another. Silver is not easy to categorize — he is saturated in factual information, but he has clear ideological leanings, and more to the point, advertises them. And beyond Silver, fear of letting ideology taint the act of fact-gathering is widespread in old-guard media precincts.

Even Ben’s bosses at Politico, who have fully embraced a Web-based journalism model, still adhere scrupulously to the old-school “non-ideological” approach to gathering and purveying information.

So it’s worth restating the premise of this new model, at least when it’s practiced at its best: It’s possible to care about what happens in politics — you can prefer one outcome to another — while simultaneously doing fact-based journalism that’s fair, professional, and has integrity.

Some will disagree with that. But the fact that traditional news orgs are hiring more and more people in this vein represents, on some level, a quiet capitulation to this model.

Indeed, news orgs are adjusting to an uncomfortable reality: More and more readers want to get political news from sources that don’t disguise their sympathies, rather than through more traditionally “objective” filters that too often place a premium on fake even-handedness at the expense of taking a stand on what’s right and true.

And congrats to Nate.

Taegan Goddard (via Andrew Sullivan):

What’s most interesting about Nate’s deal with the New York Times (to me, at least) is that he was not really “hired.” Instead, it’s a license deal where he continues to own and control the content and everything reverts back to him if he doesn’t renew. It’s the same deal you cut with Atlantic Media and I cut with CQ-Roll Call.

From a business sense, this is very different than the Washington Post hiring Ezra Klein and Dave Weigel. It could be a new model for bloggers that mimics television production.

Ezra Klein:

But is it? If I left The Washington Post tomorrow, I couldn’t take my archives with me. But then, I wouldn’t want to take my archives with me. I don’t need everything I’ve ever written following me around forevermore. What protects me is that if I leave, I still control the Ezra Klein brand, and all of its rights revert back to me. That’s not because it’s written into my deal. It’s because I’m Ezra Klein and my picture is on the banner. It would be really weird for someone not named Ezra Klein to be writing in this space.

That situation is different for a titled blog. If the New York Times bought the rights to FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate might walk and the Times might replace him. But you can’t do that when you’re dealing with someone’s actual name. That’s one of the reasons, actually, that I’ve resisted giving my blog a title. So long as it’s under my name, I control it. If it’s primarily known by another name, I don’t. Lawyers can take a lot of things from you, but as Marlo Stanfield said, your name is your name.

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

And, in movings-up in the world: everyone’s favorite statistician, Nate Silver, has been scooped up by the NYT (sort of). NYTimes.com will start hosting Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, in much the same way it hosts the Freakonomics blog. Nate Silver will also become “a regular contributor to the newspaper and the Sunday magazine,” hopefully writing purely in code.

UPDATE: Chris Bowers at Open Left

Kevin Drum

Al Giordano

UPDATE #2: Matthew Yglesias

Andrew Sullivan

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Favorite Math Whiz Of The Blogosphere Moves On Up

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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