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.
After 37 years as a writer, editor and columnist at The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof announced he is leaving the paper. But the 62-year-old isn’t off in search of a rocking chair. According to The New York Times’ Marc Tracy, Kristof is considering a run as governor of Oregon. He has been on leave from the Times since June while he mulled over a run for office. Kristof’s career at the Times was a spectacular one. He won two Pulitzer Prizes and also served as associate managing editor. In an email to staff, Times Opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury credited Kristof for “elevating the journalistic form to a new height of public service with a mix of incisive reporting, profound empathy and a determination to bear witness to those struggling and suffering across the globe.” Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger said, “Nick is one of the finest journalists of his generation. As a reporter and columnist he has long embodied the best values of our profession.”
McKay Coppins makes the list for his revealing cover story for The Atlantic: “A Secretive Hedge Fund is Gutting Newsrooms. Inside Alden Global Capital.” Coppins writes, “What threatens local newspapers now is not just the digital disruption or abstract market forces. They’re being targeted by investors who have figured out how to get rich by strip-mining local-news outfits. The model is simple: Gut the staff, sell the real estate, jack up subscription prices, and wring as much cash as possible out of the enterprise until eventually enough readers cancel their subscriptions that the paper folds, or is reduced to a desiccated husk of its former self.” Coppins goes on to write that the men who devised this model are Randall Smith and Heath Freeman, the co-founders of Alden Global Capital. It’s a must-read story. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted, “I’ve read (and written) a lot about the demise of local newspapers but very little as searing as this @mckaycoppins piece in @TheAtlantic, which includes an interview with Alden’s elusive villain, Heath Freeman.”
Stewart W. Bainum Jr.
Speaking of Alden, that brings us to Stewart W. Bainum Jr. The Maryland hotel magnate made an unsuccessful bid to buy The Baltimore Sun. So now he’s starting his own news outlet called The Baltimore Banner. The New York Times’ Marc Tracy reports the digital outlet will have a $15 million budget and that Bainum wants to hire an editor-in-chief and 50 journalists. Newspaper consultant Imtiaz Patel, an adviser to Bainum, told Tracy, “He has this vision of building up the real alternative paper of record and investing the resources he would have put into The Sun.”
“Newspapers!” — that was the tweet sent out last Monday evening by the excellent Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay. That’s all it said: “Newspapers!” But if you were paying attention to the news at that moment, you knew what it meant. Less than a half-hour earlier, Jon Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders — and that came shortly after The New York Times published a story that revealed Gruden had sent numerous emails using racist, anti-gay and misogynistic language. And the Times story came just a few days after Gay’s paper, The Wall Street Journal, wrote about one particular email that Gruden sent using a racist trope to describe DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL Players Association. How did the newspapers get those stories? Did the NFL leak the emails to them? That’s the guess. But who cares how they got it? An influential figure in the National Football League was rightfully exposed for his abhorrent views and it was two of the best newspapers in the country that shined a light on it. And then there was more. Late Thursday, the Times’ Ken Belson and Katherine Rosman dropped this bombshell: “N.F.L.’s Top Lawyer Had Cozy Relationship With Washington Team President.”
ESPN and Turner Sports
The networks kicked off their seven-year deals covering the National Hockey League and did so in grand fashion. ESPN drew solid numbers (an average of nearly a million viewers not counting ESPN+ streaming viewers) for its first telecast of the league since 2004. Meanwhile, Turner Sports launched a superb commercial-free pregame show ahead of its first-ever hockey broadcast. The Turner studio show, which includes Wayne Gretzky, looks to be appointment viewing for hockey fans. It’s hard for any game-night studio show to equal TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” but the “NHL on TNT” show might have a chance to be pretty good. The opening-night segment in which Gretzky and NBA analyst Charles Barkley interacted was top-notch. If you’re a hockey fan, you have to be encouraged by the attention ESPN and Turner are giving the sport. And don’t look now, but as The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand pointed out on his sports media podcast with Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand, Turner Sports has become quite the sports network. It doesn’t have 24-hour sports programming like ESPN, but it carries the NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball and professional golf. And it does all of it really well.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Josh Renaud wrote a story that said, “Social Security numbers of school teachers, administrators and counselors across Missouri were vulnerable to public exposure due to flaws on a website maintained by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.” The Post-Dispatch held off writing the story at first until the department could fix the problem and help protect the private information from getting out. But now, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called the reporter (presumably Renaud, although Parson never used his name or the name of the paper) a “hacker” and threatened to prosecute him. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also said whoever discovered the issue was a “hacker.” Post-Dispatch attorney Joseph Martineau said in a statement, “The reporter did the responsible thing by reporting his findings to DESE so that the state could act to prevent disclosure and misuse. A hacker is someone who subverts computer security with malicious or criminal intent. Here, there was no breach of any firewall or security and certainly no malicious intent. For DESE to deflect its failures by referring to this as ‘hacking’ is unfounded. Thankfully, these failures were discovered.” It seems as if the Post-Dispatch did the responsible thing throughout this whole story.
The OU Daily is the student paper at the University of Oklahoma, and it gets major props for using some ingenuity to get some clues on the biggest issue at the school this week: Who is going to be the starting quarterback when the No. 4-ranked Sooners play TCU this Saturday? (Hey, college football is a big deal in Oklahoma.) The football team’s practices were out of sight from the media, but that didn’t stop the students from figuring out which QB was getting the most practice time with the first-team offense. The paper wrote, “The Daily watched the offensive practice regimen from a public building near the OU football practice field, with no athletics employees discouraging observation. The Daily does not observe practice regularly, but did so Tuesday under heightened interest given the situation.” College football coaches are a paranoid group, and Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley was apparently so irritated that he cut off media access until after Saturday’s game. But good for the students. They don’t work for Riley, and they didn’t do anything illegal or break into a place they weren’t supposed to be. They were serving their readers. Good for them.
It’s not often these days that Facebook gets a pat on the back. But kudos to the social media network for its new policy to protect journalists from bullying and harassment. Appropriately calling journalists and activists “involuntary public figures,” Facebook said, “Consistent with the commitments made in our corporate human rights policy, we’ll now offer more protections for public figures like journalists and human rights defenders who have become famous involuntarily or because of their work.” Facebook did the right thing.
Yeah, all of us still read Rolling Stone for its music reviews and musician and celebrity profiles, but now it appears to be showing a real commitment to some harder news. (Actually, recommitment would be a better word because Rolling Stone has shown reporting chops all along.) But this week, senior writer David Browne wrote a tough piece on rock star Eric Clapton over his COVID-19 views, as well as some of the racist comments he has made in the past. It shows Rolling Stone isn’t afraid to go after anyone — even one of rock’s legends. New editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman tweeted, “Welcome to the new @RollingStone. We’re going to call out bad actors — no matter how big they are, and no matter how many times they may have been on our cover before.”
Finally, it’s almost Halloween, so I’m going to direct you to a photo taken by Gil Wizen. Be warned: You might not be able to sleep tonight. Let me just set it up for you. This comes from National Geographic’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year package. Wizen noticed little tiny spiders in his bedroom. Then he looked under his bed. He grabbed his camera and shot this image. I’m pretty sure I would’ve burned my house down after that. Be sure to check out all the photos in the package from National Geographic.
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