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Nate Silver Went Against the Grain for Some at The Times

July 23, 2013

By Margaret Sullivan

Why did Nate Silver decide to leave The New York Times and accept an offer from ESPN?

That’s the cause of great speculation in media circles at the moment. As has been noted elsewhere, there’s no question that The Times made a big pitch to keep him and that the effort to do so involved those at the highest levels, including Jill Abramson, the executive editor, along with people on the business side. And there’s no doubt that decision-makers are disappointed.

After all, his star power was significant. And his ability to drive traffic – especially among young, non-newspaper readers with his FiveThirtyEight blog – was unmatched, and probably will remain so.

I don’t have a great deal of inside information about how he made up his mind. But I did get to know Nate a bit. I visited with him at his second-floor desk a few times, interviewed him in person and by phone, mildly criticized one thing he did, and – notably — was mentioned very kindly in a Twitter message of his when I was under attack for that criticism.

This was true outside of the newsroom as well. In March, when I ran into him at the South by Southwest digital media convention in Austin, Tex., Nate was nice enough to stand around and chat at some length with a couple of young journalists I was with who admired him.

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.
  • A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work.
  • 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.

Read the rest at the New York Times.

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From → Analysis, Commentary

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