As raids on The New York Times by ESPN go, the network’s hiring of stats guru Nate Silver was actually not that big a deal. Media outlets have always fought over red-hot bylines. Rather, it was the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ pilfering of ace Times muckraker Don Van Natta Jr. last year that really signaled a sea change. Van Natta’s beats at the paper included News Corp.’s phone-hacking, and ESPN has tasked him with unraveling the Penn State sex-abuse scandal and sicced him on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell—an investment in old-fashioned reportorial firepower not unlike the one its Disney sibling ABC News made when it snatched Times political correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Industry consolidation and social media’s leveling effect have created a new category of competitor for the Times as conglomerates with theme-park revenues bet on journalists who can generate exclusives that stand out amid the daily content flood. And Disney—with its $114 billion market capitalization—can place a lot of those bets.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic.