ESPN has officially acquired Nate Silver’s popular political blog FiveThirtyEight.com. But the new site — an ambitious undertaking that could include dozens of writers and verticals in a variety of topics — is months away from launch, Silver and ESPN president John Skipper said in a conference call Monday afternoon.
ESPN bought the FiveThirtyEight site and name outright, which differs from the New York Times’ current licensing deal, Silver said. Skipper described ESPN’s partnership with Silver as a “long-term, multi-year” deal; the purchase price was not disclosed.
Silver said that the main model for the new FiveThirtyEight will be Grantland.com, the ESPN-owned sports and pop culture site founded by sports columnist Bill Simmons. “Grantland was as close to anything in the media right now” as what he wants to do at ESPN, Silver said. When considering offers — and there were “a lot of them” — Silver said he looked at “who can actually put this vision into practice…I have a lot of confidence that [ESPN] is going to do this the right way.” Another model for the new site was Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog, which is owned by the Washington Post.
Skipper said that the launch of the new site is “months” away: “We haven’t started on it yet.” He also said that FiveThirtyEight will remain at NYTimes.com “probably through the end of August.” After that, Silver said, there will be an “interim” solution, which he said could look like Tumblr or Medium.
More hires, new verticals
Skipper and Silver both stressed that they don’t know yet how many employees the new FiveThirtyEight will employ, but said, again, that Grantland — whose staff numbers in the “low dozens” — is a model. It’s also undecided how many of those employees will be writers versus designers. “The subject matter lends itself to interesting graphics, and a lot of times it’s really fun to see what you can do illustratively as opposed to just writing about it, so I think you’ll see an interesting site visually,” Skipper said.
“Interactive and graphical features are every bit as important as the written word,” Silver said, adding that this was an area where “I will miss the New York Times. Those guys are extremely talented at their interactives and their graphics…I hope to replicate it as best we can at the new FiveThirtyEight.”
Silver stressed that “we’re not pulling back from politics. We’ll probably hire at least one more person to cover politics full time” and said that the new site’s only guaranteed coverage areas will be sports, politics and some economics. As for other topics, “if we find the right person, we might hire in that vertical…We’re looking for people who can think, do math and write. Those skills don’t always overlap, so it’s going to be an intense search process for us.”
Hey, New York Times: It’s not personal
Silver fended off numerous questions about his relationship with the New York Times. Many of those questions centered around a blog post by the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, in which she wrote, “I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that.”
“I had plenty of support from [executive editor Jill Abramson] and other key people there,” Silver said. “I don’t really want to dwell on our relationships there…These cultural issues, I think, are getting a little bit more play than appropriate.”
One journalist asked Silver if Politico was in the bidding for FiveThirtyEight. Silver has publicly feuded with Politico, which repeatedly criticized his methods during the 2012 election season. “Was Politico one of [the bidders]? You can probably make a good inference about that based on my history with them,” Silver responded.