07/22/2013 03:40 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2013

Nate Silver Was Apparently Really 'Disruptive' In Getting Lots Of People To Visit The New York Times' Website


New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan weighs in on this weekend's big media news -- the departure of polling guru Nate Silver from the Times for the apparently friendlier climes of the synergy-tastic Disney company (and its ESPN and ABC News brands). It's a very clear loss for The New York Times. As Marc Tracy documented back in November 2012, Silver's FiveThirtyEight outpost was a massively trafficked destination for the Times' website.

Sullivan offers readers what insight she can into Silver's departure, and the way he fit into the newspaper's overall "culture," which was, to her estimation, not well. "He was, in a word, disruptive," writes Sullivan:

His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.”

It would also seem that some Times vets also got into the disrupting act. Sullivan describes the backlash she received after opining that the Times might be wise to replicate the success Silver was bringing to the paper's website in its print edition. Some of her colleagues weren't having it, apparently:

A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.

Of course, it's pretty clear that Times' brass made an extravagant effort to keep Silver, and for good reason. Here are some of the numbers Tracy was kicking around back in November of 2012:

The Times does not release traffic figures, but a spokesperson said yesterday that Silver’s blog provided a significant—and significantly growing, over the past year—percentage of Times pageviews. This fall, visits to the Times’ political coverage (including FiveThirtyEight) have increased, both absolutely and as a percentage of site visits. But FiveThirtyEight’s growth is staggering: where earlier this year, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of politics visits included a stop at FiveThirtyEight, last week that figure was 71 percent.

But Silver’s blog has buoyed more than just the politics coverage, becoming a signifiant traffic-driver for the site as a whole. Earlier this year, approximately 1 percent of visits to the New York Times included FiveThirtyEight. Last week, that number was 13 percent. Yesterday, it was 20 percent. That is, one in five visitors to the sixth-most-trafficked U.S. news site took a look at Silver’s blog.

A good question to ask right now is just how quickly will those "three high-profile Times political journalists" who criticized Silver be able to make up for the traffic shortfall that his departure will create. The answer, of course, is that they never will. Ever. Sorry, guys, just being Bayesian!

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