Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight Are on ABC’s Chopping Block

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

This reporting is one of several scoops featured in this week’s edition of Confider, the newsletter pulling back the curtain on the media. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.

Famed statistics guru Nate Silver and his website FiveThirtyEight are on the “chopping block,” Confider has learned, as ABC News looks to cut costs.

A decision on the future of the famed politics, economics, and sports analysis website is set to be made by the summer when Silver’s contract is up, multiple people with knowledge of the situation told us.

The oft-combative Silver, who has come under renewed scrutiny for his site’s polling selections, now faces an uncertain future as news division boss Kim Godwin reviews the publication, which has never turned a profit.

FiveThirtyEight has not backfilled key positions, including that of managing editor (Micah Cohen exited last year for data site Stacker), politics editor (Sarah E. Frostenson defected to The Washington Post), and sports editor (Sara Ziegler was poached by The New York Times).

Insiders lamented to Confider that ABC’s lack of enthusiasm in building a subscription business around FiveThirtyEight has been a “missed opportunity” that could have turned the site into a moneymaker for Disney.

But instead, ABC may look to offload the publication.

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This wouldn’t be the first time a FiveThirtyEight acquisition has been discussed: In 2017, Silver held talks with both The Atlantic and The Athletic about a sale, two people familiar with the situation told us.

Questions over FiveThirtyEight’s future come as Silver faces public criticism for his reliance on polls that inaccurately predicted a “red wave” in the midterm elections.

“There’s no question in my mind that FiveThirtyEight was used by partisan sources to create a false impression of the election and that Nate was aware this was happening and by not addressing it he ended up contributing to misleading the American people about what was happening in the election,“ Democratic strategist and former ABC News producer Simon Rosenberg told Confider. “This is an existential threat to FiveThirtyEight. If he refuses to make significant reforms and changes the political elite should move on to other sources to get information about polling.”

Silver did not respond to a request for comment, but an ABC News spokesperson texted Confider: “There are no imminent decisions about our relationship with 538.”

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