Nate Silver: Disruptive, or the Future of Journalism?

​Statistician Nate Silver set the media world abuzz when it was announced that he was taking his talents (and his popular blog FiveThirtyEight) from the New York Times to ESPN. If the din weren’t deafening enough, Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan increased the volume by writing on her blog that Silver was viewed as “disruptive” and that some in the newsroom “disliked his work.” All evidence points to Silver being unaffected by the culture clash with theTimes, saying in a statement that the new job with ESPN is his “dream job,” allowing him to work his statistical magic on a more diverse array of topics. But Sullivan’s post highlights the fact the schism between those who can’t imagine a different model of journalism and those who are trying to monetize quality work in the digital age. During the 2012 election, Silver’s 538 blog drove 20% of total traffic to theTimes website, according to the New Republic. Visitors may have come for Silver’s statistically-driven posts, but many stuck around to read the long-form journalism that is the hallmark of the Times. It’s truly the case of a rising tide lifting all boats. The Times can expect a dip when Silver’s blog is shut down in August. The opportunity with ESPN also gives Silver exposure across a number of platforms. He can talk sports on ESPN. ABC will certainly tap his political expertise for the midterm elections. He can harness his Twitter following of more than a half-million people to drive traffic to his new website. The Times limited him to political coverage and one major channel. Young journalists want to dabble in new technologies and cover an array of topics. More outlets are featuring online videos that expand on print reporting. While their parents may want to frame a New York Times byline, young journalists are following the steps of Silver and Andrew Sullivan by becoming what HubSpot dubbed “free agent journalists,” building their own brand instead of being tied to a corporate identity. In order to survive in a changing media landscape, the Times would be wise to let their next Nate Silver have more leeway to experiment with platforms and topics. After all, sometimes it takes a “disruptive” presence to create lasting change. By Amy Derjue, Senior Account Executive

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