Nate Silver, the statistics whiz and former New York Times star blogger who correctly called every state in the 2012 election, hit back at his old employer this week, saying he jumped ship for ESPN in part because the Times is somewhat incompetent when it comes to making money.
Silver left the Times last month to bring his hugely popular FiveThirtyEight blog to ESPN, where it will be dramatically beefed up and turned into something akin to a second Grantland, but with more politics. His departure prompted some barbed parting shots from the Times, with some reporters telling ombudsman Margaret Sullivan that they hated his statistics-heavy work, leading her to conclude that he didn't "fit into the Times culture."
On Grantland's "B.S. Report" this week, Silver said that while he loved the Times' news team, he thought its management was too "constrained" and "conservative" with the company's budget to make bold moves that, though costly up front, were crucial to the paper's long-term health. Citing Jeff Bezos' purchase of the Washington Post, Silver said the news industry, like any business, had to invest in itself or face a slow death.
"He's someone who understands how to reinvest in a product," he said of Bezos, "and the notion that, 'Well you spend a dollar on an investment today…because you expect them to return $1.20 tomorrow.'"
"I'd much rather have a guy running a newspaper for profit, where you're growing the revenue pie by five percent every year," he went on. "In the long run, that leads to a much larger budget for journalism and journalists than a case where you're saying, 'Well we're going to run it as a non-profit, but we're in decline still because we're not being creative about how to create revenues and how to launch new products and take some chances and some risks.'"
Later, Silver took a less veiled shot at the Times, suggesting that the ad team had failed to capitalize on the company's venerable name and expansive reach to bring in more dollars and readers.
I feel like this will get me in trouble, maybe. But I feel like with all the traffic the Times has right now it should be turning a much larger profit than it does right now. Right? They get so many eyeballs and so much high quality traffic — the demographics are really good, people with a lot of disposable income — that it should be a goldmine for advertisers. If you're having trouble I don't think you should blame the environmental conditions so much as maybe your sales staff isn't that good. [Grantland]
The entire podcast is worth a listen if you have any interest in the future of news, or sports, or what Malcolm Gladwell has to say, who also appears as a guest on the episode.