This report is one of many scoops featured in this week’s edition of Confidential, the newsletter pulling the curtain on the media. Subscribe here and send your questions, advice and complaints here.
Famed statistics guru Nate Silver and his website FiveThirtyEight are on the “chop”, Confider has learned, as ABC News seeks to cut costs.
A decision on the future of the popular political, economic and sports analysis website is expected to be made by the summer when Silver’s contract ends, several people with knowledge of the situation told us.
The often combative Silver, who has come under renewed scrutiny for her site’s poll picks, now faces an uncertain future as news division chief Kim Godwin scrutinizes the publication, who never made a profit.
FiveThirtyEight has failed to fill key positions, including editor-in-chief (Micah Cohen left last year for data site Stacker), political editor (Sarah E. Frostenson defected to The Washington Post), and sportswriter (Sara Ziegler was poached by The New York Times).
Insiders lamented to Confider that ABC’s lack of enthusiasm to build a subscription business around FiveThirtyEight was a “missed opportunity” that could have turned the site into a revenue generator for Disney.
But instead, ABC may be looking to offload the publication.
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It wouldn’t be the first time an acquisition of FiveThirtyEight has been discussed: in 2017, Silver held talks with the two Atlantic and The Athletic about a sale, two people familiar with the situation told us.
Questions about FiveThirtyEight’s future come as Silver faces public criticism for his reliance on polls that incorrectly predicted a “red wave” in the midterm elections.
“There is no doubt in my mind that FiveThirtyEight was used by partisan sources to create a false impression of the election and that Nate was aware of what was going on and that by not addressing it he ended up helping to mislead the American people about what was going on in the election,” Democratic strategist and former ABC News producer Simon Rosenberg told Confider. “It’s an existential threat to FiveThirtyEight. If he refuses to make meaningful reforms and changes, the political elite should turn to other sources for polling information.
Silver did not respond to a request for comment, but an ABC News spokesperson texted Confider: “There are no impending decisions regarding our relationship with 538.”
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