After an election season that saw him become a (White) household name as his once-niche polling blog embarrassed the American punditocracy, Nate Silver and The New York Times can do pretty much anything they want — both he and his boss today agreed on that.
Responding to a question about the future of Silver and FiveThirtyEight at the Grey Lady during Business Insider's Ignite conference on Tuesday afternoon, Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson said she "would love" to keep him around, not least because he drove so much traffic to the paper's site in his first election year since it bought out his blog in August 2010. In an email to The Atlantic Wire responding to those comments, Silver confirmed he was very happy with his spot at The Times, without going into specifics about FiveThirtyEight's deal.
"Not going to discuss details of my contract, especially as I've barely had time to catch my breath since the election," wrote Silver, who is currently on tour promoting his new book, The Signal and the Noise. "There are many wonderful things about The Times, including Jill, and I appreciate her kind words."
That Abramson would want to keep developing Silver's presence seems pretty obvious: "He got huge, huge readership. Half the people coming [to NYTimes.com] searched for Nate, they weren’t coming for the rest of the Times, they came for him," said Abramason, who went on tell the Tuesday conference that she now skips page-one meetings in favor of focusing on digital.
Abramson also said The Times didn't want to limit Silver's focus to the blog he started independently while writing under a pseudonym for the Daily Kos and under his former and sometimes current expertise as a sports geek for Baseball Prospectus. "We know he began in sports anyway, so it is not an exclusively political product," Abramson said. "I am excited to talk to Nate when he finishes his book tour about ways to expand that kind of reporting."
What kind of expansion, exactly, remains to be seen. FiveThiryEight is a behemoth at The Times, but it's still very much Silver's baby — he reportedly turned down higher-paying offers to maintain control under a "licensing" fee while still utilizing the reach of The Times. Despite the now-stable presence of other contributors like Micah Cohen and John Sides, FiveThirtyEight hasn't grown its staff even as fast as, say, RealClearPolitics, a site that grew during the election even as it relied on more aggregated and less scientific poll numbers than Silver's. The Times and Silver have taken issue with hirings in the past, with Ed Kilgore removed from FiveThirtyEight for coming across unbiased, but perhaps the small size has more to do with Silver's reporting itself having become appointment reading, whether in print or online, whether on the election or into the scrum over who should win baseball's MVP award. Without Silver, FiveThirtyEight is nothing, but without a bigger FiveThirtyEight, The Times loses perhaps its fastest-growing digital asset.
So where does that leave the man of 2012, heading into 2013? When asked if Silver, when he returns from his book tour, would be given his own floor in The Times' building on 8th Avenue, Abramson joked: "He has his own tower now," she said.