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Nate Silver to leave FiveThirtyEight
Here’s the latest news from the business side.
Nate Silver is likely leaving FiveThirtyEight. The site’s founder and EIC expects to depart as the outlet is “substantially impacted” by layoffs. The cuts are part of a broader wave this week at Disney, which owns FiveThirtyEight. The FiveThirtyEight brand will apparently live on, but it’s unclear how the site will otherwise be affected.
Artifact is using AI to summarize articles. The new feature will allow users to generate article summaries with the tap of a button in the news app. The company notes that the AI isn’t perfect and users should “verify the summary matches the article as [they] read the full text.”
Pod Save America is expanding to the U.K. The first episode of “Pod Saves the U.K.” is set to drop on May 4th and will be parent company Crooked Media’s first international show. Like the original, the new podcast will cover politics through a progressive lens, though its hosts lack the insider experience of the US version.
Tech platforms released Q1 earnings. Google’s advertising revenue declined slightly YoY for the second quarter in a row. Microsoft posted 16% YoY growth in their search and news advertising business. Spotify’s ad business grew 17%, and the company beat goals for monthly active users and paying subscribers.
A journalist launched a war-focused Substack. After being laid off by NPR, war correspondent Tim Mak launched The Counteroffensive. Mak expects operating costs to be at least $7,000 per month and needs 1,000 subscribers to break even.
Let’s talk about FiveThirtyEight.
First, some history.
Nate Silver, writing pseudonymously as “Poblano,” began the project in 2007 as a series of posts on the Daily Kos blog. But that didn’t last long.
By early 2008, Silver had unmasked himself and launched FiveThirtyEight as an independent blog. His unique brand of data journalism quickly attracted attention, and he made national headlines for correctly predicting the presidential results in all 50 states.
In 2010, The New York Times came calling, taking Silver’s brand of data journalism to a broader audience. In 2014, ESPN (owned by Disney) took its turn trying to scale FiveThirtyEight. Then in 2018, the site moved under ABC News (also owned by Disney). Yesterday, we learned that Silver is likely leaving, and the site is “substantially impacted” by company-wide layoffs.
There are parallels to BuzzFeed News. Both outlets pioneered a flavor of digital journalism that’s become influential in the years since. Both published quality work and developed young talent that would go on to work at more established outlets. And both ultimately struggled to demonstrate a compelling growth path.
But there’s an important difference. BuzzFeed News had big ambitions from the start, aiming to become a large, impactful news brand. By contrast, FiveThirtyEight began on a blog (authored by “Poblano,” no less) and always retained the feel of a passion project. This niche approach helped the site develop a loyal readership but also made it difficult to scale. There are only so many verticals where in-depth, data-driven journalism can thrive—particularly when advertising is the business model of choice.
One view is that FiveThirtyEight should’ve stayed niche. The site could have grown more slowly, perhaps with a blend of sponsorship and subscriptions, and avoided the turbulence that comes with corporate ownership. You can imagine how a focused version of its editorial model might flourish in today’s Substack-filled media ecosystem.
In its current state, though, FiveThirtyEight will likely struggle. Disney and ABC News are squeezing costs, and a subscale site without a clear advertising market risks getting lost in the shuffle—or worse. Silver’s departure certainly doesn’t help.
Its best hope is a new owner, one who understands the site’s editorial DNA and is excited by a leaner, more sustainable future. There is recent precedent, in fact, for journalist-led teams to buy a brand back from a larger media company. It’s a long shot, but it would be a fitting return to form.
And here’s more news from around the industry.
The Athletic announced a new podcast on LeBron James.
Bon Appétit’s EIC resigned and will return to book publishing.
Mail Online launched a new channel dedicated to royal coverage.
The Webby Awards announced 2023 winners.
A bug caused advertisers to overspend on Meta.
Elon Musk is making about $100K per month from his paywalled tweets.
The story behind a 34-year-old, text-based social network in NYC.
ChatGPT users can now turn off their chat history so conversations can’t be used as training data.
Replit, which makes AI-enabled software development tools, raised $97 million at a $1.2 billion valuation.
The RNC published an AI-generated Biden attack ad.
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