5:00 p.m., a note: this post has been update from its original draft with quotes from this afternoon's conference call with Silver and ESPN president John Skipper.
ESPN made it official today: Nate Silver will be joining the team in Bristol, Conn., to build his FiveThirtyEight into a juggernaut of data and analysis for the most stat-obsessed sports and politics watchers out there. But as that news went out Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times public editor, revealed some juicy gossip about how the statistician was viewed by the "traditional and well-respected" reporters on the politics desk of the Grey Lady.
After more than a year of negotiations, Silver will build a new team of journalists, editors, analysts and contributors at ESPN, and FiveThirtyEight will return to its original URL as part of the ESPN family. "This is a dream job for me," Silver said of joining ESPN on a conference call Monday afternoon. As many assumed, they're going to use Grantland as the model for building a separate operation within the larger Walt Disney-owned organization. "The Grantland precedent was the closest thing to what we're trying to build with FiveThirtyEight," Silver told USA Today.
Silver confirmed he's made no new hires yet to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, but told The Atlantic Wire that Grantland publisher David Cho will be working closely with him to build the new, improved, ESPN-ified FiveThirtyEight. "I'm the only person at FiveThirtyEight right now," he told us. Remember, Cho was a big part of the drive to land Silver and Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons helped lure him to the Worldwide Leader, too.
Silver revealed that he sold the FiveThirtyEight name and URL to ESPN as part of his deal to The New Republic's Marc Tracy. So that means if Silver ever does leave the Bristol network, the FiveThirtyEight name won't go with him. (Silver had a "licensing" deal with the Times.)
But the website won't launch for a few months after his Times contract ends in August, ESPN president John Skipper told reporters. There will likely be a bare bones placeholder site before the full bell-and-whistles one launches, he said.
Skipper also shot down any speculation about Silver appearing on Keith Olbermann's show or on the Oscars broadcast. ESPN president John Skipper would only tell Deitsch it's a "long-term, multi-year" deal. "Your specifics amaze me, John" Deitsch replied.
But the today's big news revolved around Silver's fractured relationship with certain employees within the Times newsroom. We want to know what facilitated his exit from The Times, where he was seemingly happy up until the moment we knew he was bailing for ESPN. "I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture," public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote earlier Monday. The Times' Brian Stelter alluded to "tension" within the newsroom during Silver's tenure with the Grey Lady, and some downplayed the initial theories about what that could have meant. But Sullivan says Silver's level-headed, rational statistical analysis regularly clashed with the traditional reporting from the Times' political and sports desks. Three "well-respected" Times employees were apparently vocal detractors:
A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.
The hunt for the identities of the Anti-Silver Three has already begun. Jim Roberts, a former Times editor said to be a big Silver supporter before he decamped for Reuters, called Sullivan's piece "insightful," adding an extra layer of heft to the report.
But Silver both confirmed and denied the report during the conference call. At one point he told the eager listeners that the "culture stuff was not a big factor" in leaving the Times. Later, though, Silver was less clear about his feelings for his soon-to-be-former co-workers. "I'm interested in running a website and building a business here, I'm not concerned with who I'm getting a beer with. I've got plenty of drinking partners," Silver told Bloomberg's Edmund Lee. Them's fighting words!
Now all we just need to know about the money.