Nate Silver: ‘Trump Has More of a Chance Than Bernie’ of Winning a Nomination

Stats wiz talks presidential hopefuls and the demise of Grantland


Current gig Editor in chief, FiveThirtyEight, a Disney/ESPN property

Previous gig EIC, FiveThirtyEight, a New York Times property

Twitter @NateSilver538

Age 37

Adweek: What are the biggest differences between partnering with The New York Times and being owned by Disney/ESPN since 2014?

Nate Silver: We have gone from having, really just me, to a staff that's roughly 25 people. That's a big difference. I spend half my time managing and editing instead of writing and building models, which I've actually come to enjoy more and more. But it does require real time. You can't half-ass your way through editing and management.

How does the culture differ?

The Times and ESPN are very different types of institutions. The way I sometimes analogize it is to think of the Times as being an Ivy League university where the quality of stuff is very good, there are lots of smart people, but it's also a little bit insular. At times it can be a little bit stodgy, whereas ESPN is more like a very good state school. University of Michigan, UCLA or North Carolina, maybe Texas, where you have gigantic scale. It's very successful for a company that has such big scale. They're not lacking in resources. It's all about scale, and, relative to ESPN, we are one of the million different things that they're doing. ESPN is more, in some ways, open-minded, diverse and thinks more toward the long term. It's not stuck in its history and past and pretty aggressive about trying new things.

If you had to choose between covering sports or politics, which would you go with?

I would go with sports before politics [laughing]. This is a fascinating election campaign, but I think on the whole people are not very good at interpreting data in the political sphere. Everyone is so focused on "I'm building a narrative" in politics, including the candidates, but also the media, where they want to tell a narrative about the campaign. If you stand on the side and say, "I'm not sure that's true," then there is a lot of friction thrown your way. It's anxiety inducing. We make a lot of forecasts and predictions [in sports], but people are actually more levelheaded.

Are you worried about the future of FiveThirtyEight after seeing how ESPN scrapped Grantland?

No. I think digital journalism is a challenging business, period. But we have a lot of things going for us. One is that we have a really nice growth trajectory as far as our graphic goes. It's grown up a lot and we've shown that there is some scale. I also think the quality of what we're doing is pretty good. There are definitely several stories per week now on the site that I am very proud of. Because ESPN is used to thinking about the long term, they told us very explicitly to "take a year and a half to kind of get your feet underneath you and focus on quality." We were really sad to see Grantland go. They were kind of our colleagues, but we think we're on a pretty good trajectory ourselves.

Did ESPN discuss it with you before they announced the closing of Grantland?

Sure, I got a little bit of a heads-up. Not a lot of heads-up but a little bit to prepare my staff. 

Outside of FiveThirtyEight, ESPN doesn't usually get too political. Has it ever tried to censor you?