July 22, 2013
Nate Silver leaves New York Times
Nate Silver (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

ESPN hasn’t yet determined precisely how Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight franchise will merge with the sports-news behemoth — not to mention ABC News — following its departure from the New York Times. A support staff of editors and reporters, for instance, needs to be hired. How Silver himself will take his act to television also needs some ironing-out.

Yet Silver is ready to talk about topical foci, in rough fractional terms. About a third of the stuff on ESPN’s version of FiveThirtyEight will be politically oriented, another third sports-oriented and the final third miscellaneous. Or something like that, said Silver this afternoon in a one-on-one chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. In a conference call this afternoon, ESPN President John Skipper said, “Our expectation is he will determine the content of that site. Politics remains at the core of what he does, so politics is going to be important there.”

The most obvious question arising from these remarks is how such continuing coverage of politics will work at a place that covers sports — even if Silver can take his political forecasts to ABC News whenever circumstances dictate.

Silver’s response to that question speaks to why ESPN and ABC News lured him from the New York Times in the first place. FiveThirtyEight, he explains, draws a great deal of men between the ages of 18 and 45 years old. “It’s a sports demographic more than it’s a politics demographic,” says Silver, noting that the mindset is not so much that FiveThirtyEight will attack a topical “vertical” but rather an audience “horizontal.”

And Silver noted that under his new roof, he’ll have more latitude to speak to that audience. “It’s hard to be informal at the New York Times,” says Silver. “It’s hard to be cheeky and sarcastic,” he adds, making specific reference to the paper’s honorific requirements — everyone, for instance, is a “Mr.” or “Ms.” after first reference. So even on what would otherwise be a breezy blog post, the “prose sounds like a New York Times article.”

Accordingly, Silver sees “more flexibility on tone and style” at the new site. The Erik Wemple Blog projects that “high-profile” ESPN officials will not back-channel their disapproval to the ESPN ombudsman.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.