December 3, 2021

Here are my Poynter Power Rankings: a look at those people, places and things that had a big impact on the media. They were the movers, shakers and influencers of the week.

COVID-19 experts

Just when we thought it was safe to go back to our lives, we were slapped in the face by something called omicron. The new COVID-19 variant has sent chills down our collective spines and has us rubbing our temples that we might go back to square one when it comes to the pandemic. Are we overreacting? Underreacting? What do we need to know? As always with the coronavirus, information is crucial at this moment. Time and time again, the TV networks have called up those who have been our most trusted go-to voices — Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Ashish Jha, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta — to give us the latest information. Their expertise is as valuable as ever. Many people on TV talk about COVID-19. But these are the people to listen to.

Candace Buckner

Buckner has been a sportswriter since 2002, and an accomplished one at that. In September, The Washington Post named her a sports columnist to, as it said, “focus on how sports shape and illuminate our understanding of culture and society.” She is off to a terrific start, writing strong columns on the body shaming of basketball star Zion Williamson, the homecoming at Howard University and the sometimes dangerous outspokenness of NBA star Kyrie Irving. Her strongest column to date was this week about another NBA player: “Enes Kanter Freedom, off the bench and onto Fox News, is a true American now.” Not that there was a doubt, but clearly the Post made a smart move asking Buckner to become a columnist.


Give CNN credit for yanking Chris Cuomo off the air while it investigates whether he crossed the line by helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was accused by 11 women of sexual misconduct. Now, before we go and give CNN too much credit, it was a day late in taking Chris off his prime-time show. News that Chris might have been more involved than originally thought broke Monday afternoon and Chris was on the air that night. That should not have happened. But he hasn’t been on since. It will be interesting to see what CNN does. It’s going to get criticized either way, but you have to think the heat will be greater if Chris is eventually allowed to return to the air and his prime-time show. If that happens, CNN’s credibility will take a hit and Chris’ credibility might never recover in the minds of many.

James Andrew Miller

Miller — who has written the definitive books on “Saturday Night Live,” ESPN and the Creative Artists Agency — has a new exhaustive book about another media giant: HBO. It’s called “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers” and features interviews with more than 750 people about one of the most influential networks in TV history. Miller explores HBO going from modest beginnings to producing some of the most iconic TV series of all time, including “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones,” “Sex and the City”  and “The Wire.” (The list of shows could go on and on.) Miller also looks at how sports (Wimbledon and boxing, especially) helped build HBO’s brand. Miller has been on the sports media podcast tour over the past week or so and you can hear insightful interviews he did with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons, The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch and Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina.


Early- and mid-career journalists, apply by Dec. 10 for $10,000 reporting fellowship

Apply today for the Higher Education Media Fellowship, which aims to increase the number of journalists equipped with the tools and networks they need to deliver comprehensive coverage on postsecondary education, particularly career and technical education. Win a $10,000 award — $5,000 as a stipend and $5,000 towards a reporting project. Details here. Open to all media types.

Virgil Abloh

(Courtesy: The New York Times)

The ultra-talented menswear designer for Louis Vuitton and founder and CEO of Off-White died Sunday of cancer. He was 41. Tributes have been plentiful, including CNN’s Nick Remsen with “‘Virgil was here:’ Inside Virgil Abloh’s final show for Louis Vuitton”; for Esquire, Mitchell S. Jackson with “Virgil Abloh Made Clothes for the 17-Year-Old Him. I Wear Them for the 17-Year-Old Me.”; and Time Magazine’s Cady Lang with “5 Ways Virgil Abloh’s Influence Went Beyond the Sphere of Fashion.” But the most impressive remembrance came from The New York Times’ Styles section, which put out a special issue Thursday dedicated to Abloh. It includes pieces from Jon Caramanica, Guy Trebay, Gina Cherelus, Jessica Testa, André Wheeler, Anna P. Kambhampaty and Vanessa Friedman. The Times even adorned the Thursday Styles logo on the print masthead in quotation marks, in honor of Abloh’s signature style.

Tampa Bay Times

I have to give a shout out to the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times, in particular, reporters Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray. They wrote part three of their “Poisoned” series which revealed how a lead factory polluted a Tampa neighborhood. Yes, this is a story that impacts just one part of the country, but it’s a good example of the importance of local journalism.

Pelham Examiner

A reader of the Poynter Report (who happens to be in the network news business) sent me a note about the Pelham Examiner in the New York City suburb of Pelham, New York. The Examiner consists of 42 staffers, aged 10 to 18 — most of whom from the Pelham Memorial School District. But as the Freedom Forum’s Karen Hansen writes, the independent Examiner “isn’t just a fun extracurricular to put on college applications. It’s essentially the town’s only paper, putting out information Russello says people otherwise just wouldn’t know.” Check out Hansen’s story and especially be sure to check out the Pelham Examiner’s website. And my Poynter colleague, Kristen Hare, wrote about the Examiner and its coverage of the coronavirus. This is good stuff!

Brian Williams

No, not that Brian Williams. I’m talking about one of Canada’s greatest all-time sports broadcasters who is retiring after 50 years in the business. Williams was with the CBC from 1974 to 2006 and then at CTV and TSN from 2006 until now. He also worked at radio stations in Toronto. In 2011, he was named to the Order of Canada, not just for his broadcasting career, but for his charitable work. He was best known for prime-time anchoring of the Olympics, as well as working on Canadian Football League broadcasts. But he covered a slew of other sports — the NHL, Major League Baseball, golf, figure skating, skiing, horse racing, IndyCar and other international games. In a statement, Williams said, “As I look back on my career, what’s most meaningful is that I have had the privilege of working with so many wonderful and talented people on both radio and television. Over the course of the last 50 years, I’ve been fortunate to cover so many great athletes and amazing events, both at home and abroad. I’d like to express my sincere thanks to all.”

Amy Schneider

What is it with “Jeopardy!” this season? We’ve already seen several contestants qualify for the Tournament of Champions by winning at least five consecutive games. That includes Matt Amodio, who started the season by capping off a 38-game win streak that dated back to last season. The latest unstoppable player is Amy Schneider, a 42-year-old engineering manager from Oakland who is the first transgender contestant in “Jeopardy!” history to qualify for the Tournament of Champions. She wore a trans flag pin on one of the shows. She tweeted, “The fact is, I don’t actually think about being trans all that often, and so when appearing on national television, I wanted to represent that part of my identity accurately: as important, but also relatively minor. But I also didn’t want it to seem as if it was some kind of shameful secret.” Schneider is crushing it on the show, with most of her games being runaways. She now has won 12 games in a row and has earned nearly a half-million dollars, putting her among the top seven in regular-season winnings. Schneider told The Washington Post’s Emily Yahr, “I believed that I was pretty good, and I thought I could win three or four games if things went well. I was like, ‘I could win a few, or run into bad luck on the first game and not win and it would be what it is.’ To win 10 and counting — that’s definitely higher than the high end of my internal expectations.” The run of elite players, including Schneider’s, has helped “Jeopardy!” get back on its feet following the hosting controversies after the death of Alex Trebek.

Year-end lists

Maybe it’s clickbait, maybe it’s like eating ice cream instead of vegetables, and you can call me a sucker, but sign me up for all the year-end lists — movies, music, TV shows. And this is the month they all come out. Some of them can be pretentious (I mean, geez, did you see NPR’s best in music list that I linked to Thursday?). Some can be pretty basic. Some can be pretty obscure, such as The New York Times’ “The Year’s Best Wine Books.” But I still love them. And here’s more today: The New York Times with the “Best Albums of 2021”; The New Yorker’s “Best Movies of 2021”; IndieWire’s “The 25 Best Movies of 2021”; and Paste Magazine’s “The 50 Best Albums of 2021.” Keep ‘em coming, people.

Correction: The Pelham Examiner is not the school newspaper of Pelham Memorial High School. It’s an independent community paper owned by the staff. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that fact.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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