Revenge Of The Pundits

Why Are NY Times Reporters So Happy To See Nate Silver Leave?

Nate Silver, the gay wunderkind of political data and a web-traffic magnet, will be leaving The New York Times for a new spot at ESPN, and a lot of them will be happy to see him go. Their reasons tell you a lot about what’s wrong with political journalism.

Silver does data analysis, which in other hands would be deadly but in his becomes lively and sophisticated. He correctly predicted the outcome of last year’s presidential election in all 50 states; his FiveThirtyEight blog became the bookmarked site for Democrats seeking reassurance that the Romney resurgence existed only in fantasy. Silver is also openly gay, which led one right-wing blogger to claim last fall that Silver was too effeminate to understand data.

Silver’s departure from the Times is a blow to the paper, but apparently some political reporters there seem it as a cause for rejoicing. According to a column by public editor Margaret Sullivan, “a  number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work.” Sullivan says that Silver’s ” 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.’” In other words, everything that is wrong about political coverage today — the faux controversies, the breathless analysis of day-to-day activities, and the the obsessive focus on small shifts in polls. Political reporters prefer to think of themselves as soothsayers interpreting the entrails of political campaigns instead of relying upon a scientific approach. Imagine how galling it is to discover that the science was actually right.

Silver says that the newsroom culture at the Times Punditwas “not a big factor” in his departure. For someone who started his career analyzing baseball statistics, ESPN probably seems like the dream home. Plus, Silver will still get to write about politics and the Oscars (he’s better at politics). And The New York Times can go back to reporting about politics as an insiders’ game that only the privileged can explain, unencumbered by data.

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  • LadyL

    Poor NY Times. The Gray Lady has never seemed so…(old and) gray.

  • thomesings

    Sullivan’s side comes out so horribly. But, it’s like the tears of the buggy-whip maker after the success of the Model-T. Or flat earth society.

    But, for Silver, this probably makes the most sense. It’s 3 years until the pres election springs back up. If 538 doesnt turn back on then, then i’d be surprised. All the news pubs will be falling over themselves making Nate offers, just as soon as someone forms a committee to run. He’s a freaking gold mine. It would be negligent for any news org not to do break its back trying to hire him.

  • plaintom

    Nate, I strongly suggest you hire a bodyguard because once your data based reporting cuts into the profits from sports betting it will get ugly.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Mr. Silver, Thank you for saving me from a stress ulcer during the Romney disaster. I was hitting your blog every time a pundit would come on TV and say, “Romney will win.” Thank you.

  • Kangol

    His empirical approach was so refreshing! Now it’s back to a reporting staff that mostly cannot analyze even basic figures, grasp percentages, add and subtract, or even demonstrate a minimal understanding of basic mathematics and statistics.

    I think his talents are being wasted at ESPN, which rarely if ever reports on anything of real social or political value, but if it means more financial security and less hateration from his anumerate former journamalistic colleagues on the Times staff, more power to him.

  • JayHobeSound

    Al Jazeera English has been on a hiring blitz lately. Perhaps hanging at ESPN while a post-NYT non-compete agreement expires?

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