Media people

How ABC and ESPN lured Nate Silver from the New York Times *

nate-silver-no-glasses.jpgMike Allen at Politico has some terrific detail on the year-long negotiations aimed at keeping data analyst-blogger Nate Silver at the New York Times — and on what the Disney-owned ESPN and ABC offered to reel him in. Silver's exit is viewed as a big loss at the New York Times, where he had become a major traffic driver to the paper's website. The Times had offered Silver a staff of his own and essentially an in-house blog franchise with the ability to expand into economic and weather analysis, says Allen. But Disney promised extensive air time on ABC and ESPN, a role in Oscars coverage "and a digital empire that may include websites devoted to weather, education, economics and other topics." He also will get to keep a hand in sports, where he felt unwelcome at the NYT, per Allen.

The battle for data whiz Nate Silver, fought secretly and aggressively by several of the nation’s top news executives for the better part of a year, was won by ESPN and ABC News ....When it came to money, Silver was aggressive but not greedy, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Instead, he was focused on how he could expand the franchise he had built around FiveThirtyEight (the total number of electoral votes). began as a standalone blog in 2008, and became part of in 2010 as part of a three-year licensing agreement that ends next month....

There was early interest from NBC and Bloomberg. But for many months, Silver’s conversations have pitted ESPN/ABC against The Times. Executive Editor Jill Abramson led the Times negotiations, and retaining Silver was such as high priority that publisher and chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. and CEO Mark Thompson were involved.


Abramson and Washington Bureau Chief David Leonhardt, another key player in the drive to keep Silver, saw his brand-within-a-brand as a wave of the future. They wanted Silver to bring his secret sauce to other areas of coverage. And they want to develop other Nate Silvers, in the mold of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s pioneering DealBook. So Silver’s role as the template increased his value to The Times....

Early this year, The Times laid out a plan that would give Silver a staff of six to 12 bloggers to focus on a variety of topics, modeled on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog at The Washington Post. The plan was so specific that it named Megan Liberman, an up-and-coming deputy news editor at The Times, as Silver’s editor. As recently as last month, some executives at The Times were confident Silver would stay, mainly because they had given him everything he had asked for. Silver is very interested in prestige, and the prestige of The Times was a huge deal to him. But Silver, who first made his name with forecasts for Major League Baseball players, still loves sports. At times, he felt unwelcome in the Times Sports section, and seemed to struggle to fit into its culture. The section is among the most innovative at the paper, but not in the areas that are Silver’s wheelhouse.

ESPN’s recruitment drive was led by President John Skipper and John Walsh, executive vice president and executive editor, who have brought a more literate style to ESPN and are pushing the organization in a more analytical direction. Silver’s youth and credibility were hugely attractive. The model they proposed to Silver was Bill Simmons, “The Sports Guy,” who has a personal megabrand within the ESPN brand through his “B.S. Report,” blogs and podcasts. ESPN kept Simmons in part by making him editor-in-chief of a new ESPN website,, devoted to long-form journalism. In the quest for Silver, ESPN enlisted ABC News, which could provide a high-profile platform during elections and conventions. And Silver clicked with ABC’s political personalities: George Stephanopoulos, Jonathan Karl, Jeff Zeleny and Rick Klein.

Brian Stelter of the New York Times had broken the news of Silver's impending departure with a story on Friday night.

* Added: Josh Marshall adds some Politico context at Talking Points Memo.

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