Five months and one day after Nate Silver and The New York Times broke up, the Paper of Record anointed a new numbers king Wednesday to lead a new data-driven department that will compete directly with Silver's ESPN-funded FiveThirtyEight.
The Times' former data wizard decamped for ESPN in August. His successor, it turns out, was hiding in the top position at one of the Times most high profile stations this entire time. Politico's Dylan Byers first reported the shakeup at the Times' D.C. bureau: now-former bureau chief David Leonhardt is stepping down, while politics editor Carolyn Ryan will step-up to take his place. (The Times also announced the politics desk will "integrate" with the Washington desk.) Two separate sources described Loenhardt as the Times' "next Nate Silver," and "the new Nate," to Byers.
In a memo to Times staff leaked by Capital New York's Joe Pompeo, executive editor Jill Abramson said Leonhardt's new project is "the nexus of data and news and will produce clear analytical reporting and writing on opinion polls, economic indicators, politics, policy, education, and sports," which sounds exactly like FiveThirtyEight. If there was any doubt the Times was going to let Silver walk without replacing him, in some way, with someone a lot cheaper, it's officially been squashed. The two former friends, now enemies, will fight to the death for eyeballs.
Leonhardt will have a murderer's row of contributors helping him go head-to-head with Silver, too. The Times just announced Nate Cohn, formerly of The New Republic, Justin Wolfers, formerly of Bloomberg View, Michael Beschloss, formerly a contributor for PBS Newshour and NBC News, are all joining the team. Amanda Cox, the Times' in-house chart wunderkind, will also work on the new project.
Tapping Leonhardt as Silver's successor certainly didn't shock some keen-eyed Times observer's. The New Republic's Marc Tracy, essentially a Times-specific horse whisperer, predicted Leonhardt would get the nod months ago. Tracy made the case for Leonhardt as Silver's successor in August:
The Washington bureau chief is a Pulitzer-winning economics writer with a reporter’s chops and an engineer’s mind (which is to say, he does not have the ideal bureau-chief personality). He’s already writing articles expertly and empirically analyzing health care reform, abortion, and inequality. In 2004, he wrote a column called “Keeping Score” about sports analytics.
"This is a no-brainer," Tracy said. The move didn't go unnoticed within Silver's kingdom, either. Micah Cohen, who jumped from the Times to Silver's new ESPN venture, called Leonhardt's coronation a "really good choice."
This should be fun.