There was some splashy media news on Tuesday.
Ben Smith, the media columnist for The New York Times, announced he is leaving the Times and teaming up with Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith to start a global news organization.
Puck’s Dylan Byers called it the media version of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joining forces on the Brooklyn Nets, or Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck getting back together.
Details are still sketchy — such as the name, what they will cover, how they will cover it, where the money is coming from and who will work there. But there was plenty of buzz about it on Tuesday considering the big names involved. Especially Ben Smith, who was personally recruited by Times executive editor Dean Baquet in 2020 to take over the Media Equation column made famous by the late David Carr and then, later, Jim Rutenberg.
Smith, who was editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed News for eight years prior to moving over to the Times, made quite the impact as the Times’ media columnist. As someone who reads a ton of media writers, I found Smith to be highly relevant, always engaging and a weekly must-read. Quite honestly, I thought he was the most interesting media writer there is.
“What makes Ben special is that he is a commentator who also deeply reports,” Baquet said in a statement. “That’s a pretty rare combination in media writing today.”
Byers reports this partnership between the two Smiths has been nearly two years in the making. It’s not known exactly when Smith will leave the Times. When he does, he will be the editor of this new venture, while Justin Smith will run the business side.
Now we wait to see exactly what kind of news outlet this will be. Ben Smith told the Times’ David Gelles that the goal is to be a news-breaking outlet that will try new ways of storytelling.
Smith provided plenty of fodder for media observers on Tuesday with a quote that many couldn’t quite figure out.
“There are 200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience, but who talk to each other and talk to us,” Smith said. “That’s who we see as our audience.”
It’s unclear how that would be different from so many other media outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, national news networks and so on. So I reached out to Smith for more clarity.
In an email, Smith told me, “It might have been useful to put the word ‘global’ into that sentence! What I mean is that there’s a global audience that is served largely by national media that is often taking stories through the lenses of social media and polarized national politics, and that there’s a ton of dissatisfaction all over the world, and a lot of space to innovate.”
Smith also had plenty of other interesting takes on this new venture. He told Byers, “The era of social media journalism is basically coming to an end, and there’s a question of what’s next. The relationship of individual journalists to their audience is also changing, and I think (this new publication) will reflect that.”
Smith told The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi something similar: “Social media has bled back into newsgathering and assigning in a way that I feel like readers aren’t being treated with respect, and their intelligence isn’t being respected.”
And he told Gelles at the Times: “The pressures of social media and polarization have a lot of news organizations talking down to their audience.”
Justin Smith told Byers that the number of journalists who might be hired could be in the hundreds, but added, “the sequencing is going to be intelligently thought through. We’re not going to fall into the pitfalls that some less-sophisticated publishers have fallen into.”
So this is certainly ambitious, and it will be fascinating to see how it turns out, especially because the Smiths are leaving really good jobs.
Recode’s Peter Kafka wrote, “My translation: Both Ben Smith and Justin Smith are incredibly ambitious — ambitious enough that holding down two of the top gigs in media wasn’t enough for them. By creating their own thing — funded with other people’s money — they’ll be owners, not just employees.”
One more thought …
There’s a lot of interesting stuff about this Smith & Smith venture, but the most interesting is Ben Smith suggesting it would focus on, as the Times’ David Gelles put it, “elevating the profiles of individual journalists.”
That sounds a bit like what The Atlantic is doing with their recent launch of a slew of new newsletters, featuring journalists such as David French, Molly Jong-Fast and Charlie Warzel.
Another big move
This also was a stunner on Tuesday: Audie Cornish, host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” announced that she is leaving NPR. She posted a thread on Twitter saying she is joining “The Great Resignation” — meaning she is simply stepping away from her job.
She tweeted that she loves her job and the listeners, but that she is ready to “stretch my wings and try something new.” She also tweeted, “it’s a risk. and that’s ok. I look forward to new opportunities and new ways to tell stories. and to keep finding ways to make space and center the voices of those who have been traditionally left out! Our conversation isn’t over. Stay tuned as we say in radio”
Cornish is the latest high-profile person of color to leave NPR in the recent past. Noel King left as host of “Morning Edition” last month to join Vox Media. Weekend host Lulu Garcia-Navarro left to join The New York Times. And Joshua Johnson left “1A” in late 2019 to become a host at MSNBC.
In a lengthy Twitter thread — which you should read in its entirety for full context — Johnson said, “I share the concerns over diverse hosts leaving public media, and the challenges of recruiting a workforce that reflects America.”
However, he went on to say, “NPR is better for having an inclusive workforce. But it would be far worse if that workforce thought it had nowhere to go except @NPR. Reaching our potential requires new avenues for growth and possibility. There’s a huge difference between feeling safe, and feeling stuck.”
He also pointed out that those who have left NPR have gone on to really good jobs — MSNBC, The New York Times, Vox, etc. He wrote, “We can all work to strengthen the pipelines that foster diverse talent. We can work… or we can worry. But each will impede the other. So maybe there’s more work to do. Perhaps another way we can try. Or maybe we just need to keep at it and give our efforts time to bear fruit.”
Ari Shapiro, who is Cornish’s co-host on “All Things Considered,” tweeted that Cornish leaving “stings.” He added, “I’m on vacation and not planning on staying glued to twitter or email. If you’re a journalist writing about this, I’ll sing Audie’s praises to the end of time but refer you to … NPR comms for comment on why we’re hemorrhaging hosts from marginalized backgrounds.”
Don’t miss the Jan. 31 deadline to enter this year’s Collier Prize for State Government Accountability. The $25,000 annual prize honors the year’s best investigative and political reporting of state government. The award is available to any news organization on any platform. Click here to enter.
Jan. 6 committee wants to talk to Sean Hannity
The House committee investigating the attacks of Jan. 6 have someone they really want to talk to: Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity.
Axios’ Jonathan Swan had the scoop Tuesday that the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection wanted to ask Hannity for his voluntary cooperation with its investigation. Then shortly after Swan’s story, the committee sent a letter — and not a subpoena — to Hannity, asking him to speak. It said, “We have no doubt that you love our country and respect our Constitution. Now is the time to step forward and serve the interests of your country.”
We already knew that Hannity had texted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the Jan. 6 attacks, asking if Donald Trump could make a statement and ask people to leave the Capitol. But more texts by Hannity were revealed in Tuesday’s letter from the committee. On Dec. 31, 2020 — just a week before the insurrection — Hannity texted Meadows, “We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told.”
On Jan. 5, Hannity texted, “Im very worried about the next 48 hours.”
On Jan. 10, four days after the riot, Hannity wrote to Meadows and Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan about Trump, saying, “He can’t mention the election again. Ever. I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I’m not sure what is left to do or say, and I don’t like not knowing if it’s truly understood. Ideas?”
Trump told CNN in a statement, “I disagree with Sean on that statement and the facts are proving me right.”
During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Hallie Jackson Reports,” committee member and California Congressman Adam Schiff said, “(Hannity) was texting with the chief of staff and that (we believe) he has information that would be relevant to our committee. He was more than a Fox host. He was also a confidant, adviser, campaigner for the former president. And I would hope that, if he’s asked by the committee, as I expect he will be very soon, that he would cooperate with us.”
It doesn’t sound as if Hannity will cooperate. In a statement to Axios, Hannity’s counsel, Jay Sekulow, said, “If true, any such request would raise serious constitutional issues including First Amendment concerns regarding freedom of the press.”
Later, Sekulow put out a statement that said, “We are evaluating the letter from the committee. We remain very concerned about the constitutional implications especially as it relates to the First Amendment. We will respond as appropriate.”
However, the committee, in its letter to Hannity, said, “None of these communications are subject to any kind of privilege.” The letter also said, “Again, we stress that our goal is not to seek information regarding any of your broadcasts, or your political views or commentary. We have deep respect for the First Amendment for our Constitution.”
The letter was signed by Chair Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney.
This is scary
Here’s a report that you should watch, but it’s also incredibly disturbing, too. It’s another from CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, who talks to Trump supporters who have been sucked into the black hole of conspiracy theories and misinformation. And what they believe is truly mind-boggling.
The headline hints at what you’re in for: “One year later, mentioning January 6 at a Trump event doesn’t go well.”
It’s hard to understand if these people actually believe this stuff, or know what the truth is and just refuse to admit it publicly. Sadly, I think it’s the former.
Watch for yourself.
Hold on a minute
Former President Donald Trump was supposed to speak on Jan. 6 — the anniversary of the attack on the Capitol. But he announced on Tuesday that he is canceling his scheduled speech and, instead, will say what he has to say at a rally in Arizona on Jan. 15.
Just this past weekend, Alyssa Farah Griffin, Trump’s former director of strategic communications, told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that speaking on Jan. 6 was a bad idea: “This would be a wise day for him to stay silent, to let those who were victims on Capitol Hill talk about that very important and solemn day.”
Jan. 6 coverage
Here are more coverage plans for Jan. 6.
On Thursday, NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie will anchor a special edition of the “Today” show from the U.S. Capitol and will interview Liz Cheney. Lester Holt will anchor the “NBC Nightly News” from Washington. MSNBC also will have day-long coverage.
On CBS, Tony Dokoupil will anchor “CBS Mornings” from the Capitol. Norah O’Donnell will anchor the “CBS Evening News” from the Capitol and will be joined by John Dickerson.
- In a combined effort from ProPublica and The Washington Post, it’s Craig Silverman, Craig Timberg, Jeff Kao and Jeremy B. Merrill with “Facebook Hosted Surge of Misinformation and Insurrection Threats in Months Leading Up to Jan. 6 Attack, Records Show.”
- The Washington Post’s Tim Carman with “Women allege racism, sexism at food media company Feedfeed.”
- Axios’ Sara Fischer and Neal Rothschild with “News engagement fell off a cliff in 2021.”
- New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand with “Rachel Nichols free to pursue comeback with ESPN exit finalized.”
- Thousands of drivers were stranded overnight Monday on I-95 in and around Washington D.C. because of a winter storm. Among those was NBC News’ Josh Lederman, who filed this report Tuesday morning while stuck in his car with his dog in the backseat.
- For Vox, Shirin Ghaffary with “Marjorie Taylor Greene and Big Tech’s never-ending censorship loop.”
- The New York Times’ Matthew Futterman with “Two Wyoming Bobsledders. Two Horrific Brain Injuries. One Survivor.”
- For Rolling Stone, Seth Harp with “She Asked the Army to Investigate a Rape Trial. They Fired Her.”
- For The Washington Post Magazine, Simon van Zuylen-Wood with “The Radicalization of J.D. Vance.”
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