An expansion, a departure, and the same dire questions

Yesterday, the Washington Post announced plans to hire forty-one new editors, in what management called a “major expansion to accelerate our transformation into a fully 24/7 news organization and strengthen the leadership of the newsroom.” The positions include multiple assignment editors, breaking news editors, and two new standards editors, and are intended, in part, to create more editorial opportunities for journalists of color. Sally Buzbee, the Post’s top editor, told the New York Times that the majority of new hires would work from Washington, DC: “I could see some of these jobs potentially being filled outside of Washington, and I could see future jobs around a national expansion potentially that way, but I also think that the vast majority of our leadership is going to be here.” Journalists celebrated the Post’s expansion on social media throughout the day. 

Also yesterday, Tribune Publishing made an announcement of its own, directed to the staff of the New York Daily News and the Hartford Courant. In a memo, Tribune—which was acquired by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund, in May—notified the papers that Andrew Julien, the editor of the Courant, would replace Robert York, the editor of the Daily News, effective immediately. Julien will reportedly serve as an interim editor while a search for a permanent successor to York is conducted. He will also keep his post at the Courant, and will run the Daily News—whose estimated seventy-plus newsroom staffers serve a city of nearly nine million people—on an “as-needed basis.” Alden owns roughly two hundred US newspapers and is known for withering cuts; since it acquired Tribune in May, at least seventy-three journalists working for Tribune newspapers have accepted buyouts, and at least one paper has shuttered

The media industry is inflicted with bad economics and greedy stakeholders. It’s subject to the whims of fickle owners and arbitrary algorithms. Entrenched practices of racism and sexism have lost news outlets countless audience members, not to mention staffers. And sometimes, not even those at the top can escape the consequences. Paul Farhi, a media reporter for the Washington Post, recently tweeted ComScore numbers for a handful of top newsrooms that showed a significant decline in traffic across the industry. The Post saw a 24-percent decline in traffic since last year. The Times: 22-percent drop. Politico: 46-percent drop. Vice: 41-percent drop. (“No Trump, no election = less traffic,” Farhi wrote.) ComScore is an imperfect metric; still, it seems as though some macro patterns do not discriminate. 

At the same time, only some newsrooms—and the journalists who staff them—will be able to withstand these ebbs. As Tony Haile, the founding CEO of Chartbeat, wrote for CJR last year, “The New York Times has more digital subscribers in Dallas–Fort Worth than the Dallas Morning News, more digital subscribers in Seattle than the Seattle Times, more digital subscribers in California than the LA Times or the San Francisco Chronicle.” In many newsrooms, it’s not just a matter of audience numbers or subscriber numbers––it’s a question of vitality. This summer, Bklyner shut down, Vice Media laid off seventeen staffers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Cedar Rapids Gazette both shut their print facilities, the Billings Gazette put its building up for sale, WNYC laid off fourteen people. The list goes on

Yes, there have been bright spots this summer beyond the Post’s hiring spree, from Politico’s sale (though this may be more complex than it appears) to signs of hope for independent writers on Substack. But there are few indications that newsrooms can thrive just because they are good. They also have to be lucky. Nowadays, not even being owned by a billionaire is adequate protection; the billionaire must also be benevolent enough to leave the newsroom alone. As journalism looks toward a world beyond Trump bumps, yesterday’s announcements are a difficult reminder that the media industry, like the American economy, increasingly resembles a winner-takes-all game. The question of whom funding exists for is at the heart of the industry’s future; its answer remains unclear. 

 

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Below, more on the business of news:

  • The Times keeps growing: “The Morning,” the Times’s daily newsletter, is expanding its staff and will now produce weekend editions, Insider reported. With five million daily readers, the newsletter, led by David Leonhardt, is the paper’s most read. Insider reports that some journalists at the paper “have been irked” by Leonhardt’s platform to pontificate on Covid.
     
  • Bad metrics: Twitter settled a class-action lawsuit for more than $800 million after allegedly misleading investors about its engagement metrics, Variety reported. The metrics had to do with how many accounts, on average, used Twitter each day. 
  • “Amorphous and lackluster”: Nexstar, the country’s largest local TV news company, is also looking to expand its acquisitions, reports Axios, mostly in the realms of sports, news, and weather. Last year, Meaghan Winter wrote about the sprawling company for CJR: Nexstar is “a unique bellwether of whether consolidation can be in the public interest.” 

Other notable stories:

  • For CJR’s latest magazine issue, Jon Allsop profiled Mehdi Hasan, the British host of American cable news, who shows that it’s possible to “scrutinize ‘both sides’ from a place of moral clarity.” As Hasan told Allsop, “I was one of those people who used to shout at the TV. Now I have an opportunity to be on TV and fix those issues.” 
  • In Cuba, while communication is still largely censored, podcasts are unrestricted and resonating, the Times reports. “The hosts don’t take for granted the relative freedom they have enjoyed so far in criticizing the government. After all, Cuba does not have press freedom laws and critical journalists are often subject to harassment and home detention,” the Times wrote. 
  • Malika Andrews will host a new daily show on the NBA for ESPN, the Washington Post reports. “The show essentially will replace Rachel Nichols’s ‘The Jump,’” the Post writes, after the Times published a recording of Nichols suggesting that a Black colleague, Maria Taylor, was replacing her because the network felt pressure to diversify. Nichols will no longer cover the NBA for ESPN. 

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Savannah Jacobson is a contributor to CJR and a reporter and writer based in New York.

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