September 14, 2022

Nothing beats football.

That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. When it comes to TV, football remains king.

Check out these numbers. Sunday’s 1 p.m. Eastern game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals averaged 17.38 million viewers. That many haven’t watched CBS’s early-window Week 1 game since the NFL returned to the network in 1998.

Over on Fox, an average of 18.54 million viewers watched the Green Bay Packer and Minnesota Vikings in the late afternoon slot. That’s a 12% increase over a year ago.

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is routinely the most watched program on TV every year. On Sunday, the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Bucs took on America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, and even though the game was a dog (the Bucs won 19-3), it averaged 25.1 million viewers. That’s the best opening week for “SNF” since 2015.

But here’s the real nitty gritty: Of the top 10 most-watched shows over the past week, nine were either NFL games or NFL pregame or postgame shows, according to Nielsen. The only non-NFL show was at No. 8 — “60 Minutes,” which, by the way, had the NFL as a lead-in.

The Athletic’s Bill Shea wrote, “What does it all mean? The NFL numbers continue to be incredible in light of the continued roiled state of the TV industry, which is dealing with overall viewership declines as tens of millions of U.S. homes drop cable in favor of streaming or even nothing at all. The pandemic accelerated some of the industry trends, yet the NFL remains one of the lesser-affected TV properties.”

The numbers above are straight over-the-air broadcast numbers. Viewership and interest in the NFL are much, much higher when you factor in the NFL’s “Red Zone” channel — which, for seven hours, constantly shifts from one game to another and isn’t measured by Nielsen.

Shea wrote, “… the NFL’s stranglehold on American TV is astounding.”

Meanwhile, ESPN finally started getting a return on its huge investment for “Monday Night Football.” Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who were lured away from Fox Sports for a combined $165 million over the next five years, called their first regular season game for ESPN on Monday night. It turned out to be a decent game with a weird finish as the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos and former Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Did it feel like a big game with two of the best announcers in the business? Actually, yeah it did.

The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch agreed, writing, “Did it feel bigger? I think it did, but much of that was my own anticipation of Buck and Aikman moving to ESPN.”

The ratings for the game were huge. ESPN reported that 19.85 million tuned in to the main broadcast, making it the most-watched “Monday Night Football” game since 2009 and the third-most watched in the ESPN era, which goes back to 2006 and spans more than 270 games.

In addition, the ManningCast on ESPN2 featuring former QB brothers Peyton and Eli Manning also had a solid number of 1.5 million viewers.

As the year goes along, it will be interesting to see if the Buck-Aikman booth will take viewers away from the Mannings. My theory is that if your favorite team is playing on “Monday Night Football,” you might be more inclined to watch the main broadcast. But if your team is not in the game, you might be more willing to switch over to the Mannings.

To be clear, the main broadcast has far superior TV numbers. Last year’s ManningCast drew an average of 1.58 million viewers per game. The main “MNF” broadcast averaged 14.18 million viewers over 19 regular-season games.

Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina had a nice get, talking to Buck for a Q&A after Monday’s broadcast. Buck told Traina, “​​It wasn’t like any other broadcast and it wasn’t like any other night. I was really excited at my ripe young age of 53, but I felt in some ways like I was 24 or 25 doing Buccaneers and Bears on opening day in 1994. There’s that newness. It’s like starting a new school. But on the other hand, I never felt nervous.”

Blogging but make it 2022

For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague, Annie Aguiar.

The 2000s called, and it has some ideas on how to organize a news website.

That’s not an insult to tech news outlet The Verge’s redesign, unveiled Tuesday: The new version is a return to blogging, in addition to its eye-catching visuals and new logo.

The change sees the Vox Media-owned outlet making a bid to build out its own website as its main platform for sharing the news, an audience strategy in stark contrast to many outlets’ reliance on social media to get their stories out and about.

“I think that the core realization for us is that our competition is not Wired, our competition is Twitter … and other aggregators of audience,” editor-in-chief Nilay Patel told Axios.

Patel’s introductory post for the redesign pointed to the website’s last incarnation, designed six years ago, as built to travel as articles were packaged across search and other platforms. “But publishing across other people’s platforms can only take you so far,” Patel writes. “And the more we lived with that decision, the more we felt strongly that our own platform should be an antidote to algorithmic news feeds, an editorial product made by actual people with intent and expertise.”

The new homepage’s feed is called the Storystream news feed, curated by editors and senior reporters with stories, blog posts, links to other outlets and highlights of archival features and investigations from The Verge relevant to the news of the day. Comment sections will also be a big part of the new audience approach, with Q&As and other experiments to come.

While the redesign certainly pops, it raised accessibility concerns for some reviewers who pointed to the color choices, flashing images and new logo as issues.

Wemple weighs in

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote about the Las Vegas reporter who was murdered in “The horror of Jeff German’s killing.”

German, a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was found dead from stab wounds outside his home less than two weeks ago. A county official whom German has written about for mismanagement has been arrested in German’s murder.

Wemple’s piece gets into the details of what German has written, what he was continuing to investigate and the reaction to those stories from Robert Telles, the Clark County public administrator who has been arrested. Many who worked with German and were close to him said, despite Telles’ online complaints about the reporter’s work, he did not feel threatened.

Wemple wrote, “News of his slaying stunned his colleagues and unnerved journalists across the country — not only because of the brutal circumstances but also because of the broader conundrum at the heart of the case: How can reporters possibly know whom to fear?”

Wemple quotes Glenn Cook, the executive editor of the Review-Journal, who said, “It’s terrifying for the staff to understand that this is possible, and it is alarming to journalists everywhere that the person that you would least expect to be capable of something like this actually might be. … We’re not covering an extremist organization; we’re not covering a rally that’s inciting violence; we’re covering a duly elected official.”

A significant profile

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference on Sept. 7 in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

As someone who lives in Florida — and just down the road from where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was raised and played Little League Baseball — I feel like I’ve read every significant profile of DeSantis over the past several years.

But the latest story from The New York Times Magazine’s Matt Flegenheimer — “Is Ron DeSantis the Future of the Republican Party?” — might be as complete of a profile written about the Florida governor and, quite possibly, the next president.

This paragraph is superbly written: “Left unspoken is the figure DeSantis believes is best suited to carry the party’s banner without the former president’s baggage. Across the Republican factions unsure if they are approaching an eventual Trump-free future or still living in an interminable Trump present, DeSantis has been permitted to subsist as a kind of Schrödinger’s candidate, both Trump and Not Trump. He can present as an iron-fisted imitation, touring the country in August with a slate of Trump endorsees who lie about the 2020 election. He can cosplay as the post-Trump choice for those desperate for a post-Trump party — a Yale- and Harvard-educated man of letters just winking at the party’s extremes. He can pitch himself, especially, as the ‘Trump, but …’ candidate — an Evolutionary Trump, the 2.0 — defined most vividly by what DeSantis has learned by watching: Here is Trump, but more strategic about his targets; Trump, but restrained enough to keep his Twitter accounts from suspension; Trump, but not under federal investigation.”

It’s a long story, but well worth your time.

Lost in the mail?

Right after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a screenshot went viral that was supposedly from Donald Trump’s Truth Social social media platform. It was from Trump and it said, “I never told anybody but she knighted me in private.”

To be clear, Trump never posted such a thing. The Associated Press’ Josh Kelety fact-checked it and reported that it was a fabricated screenshot. Liz Harrington, a Trump spokesperson, confirmed to Kelety that the alleged Truth Social post was fake.

But during an appearance on CNN on Tuesday, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who has a book coming out next month about Trump, said Trump and his associates felt he had a “special connection” to the Queen. However, while President Joe Biden was invited to the upcoming funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Trump was not. It should be noted that the other living U.S. presidents also have not been invited, so it’s not as if Trump specifically is being excluded.

But during her CNN appearance, Haberman said, “… there’s for some reason, some expectation around people close to Trump that he should be getting an invitation. He fancied himself as having some kind of close relationship with her. A former aide to Trump said to me, ‘Oh, no, no, the queen really liked him.’ And I said, ‘Because, because she said that? Because she said, you know, nice things about him?’ They genuinely believe there was some kind of bond. I have no reason to believe, just from anything I have ever heard or read, that the queen felt as if she had some special connection to Donald Trump.”

Mediate’s Tommy Christopher has more, including a clip of Haberman’s CNN appearance.

Dinners with Ruth

NPR’s Nina Totenberg has a new book that goes into detail about her business and personal relationship with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The book is called “Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships.”

Totenberg is NPR’s superb legal affairs correspondent who, among other duties, covers the Supreme Court. Her friendship with Ginsburg over the years drew criticism from many media observers, although Totenberg insisted there was nothing inappropriate and her job was never compromised. In fact, she has argued that getting to know some of those she closely covers has made her even better at her job.

After Ginsburg’s death in 2020, Totenberg wrote, “I sometimes was asked how I could remain such good friends with RBG at the same time that I covered her as a reporter. The answer was really pretty simple. If you are lucky enough to be friends with someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you both understand that you each have a job and that it has to be done professionally, and without favor.”

The Washington Post’s Roxanne Roberts wrote about Totenberg and her new book in a story on Tuesday with the headline: “Nina Totenberg was friends with RBG. Got a problem with that?”

Actually, yeah, I did, and I wrote about it for Poynter back in 2020. My issue was that while there was never any evidence to question Totenberg’s coverage of Ginsburg, we also could never be entirely sure of the coverage either because of just how close the two were.

My Poynter colleague Kelly McBride, who also is NPR’s public editor, wrote back in 2020 after Ginsburg died, “… the closeness of that Totenberg-Ginsburg relationship was never fully disclosed, and raises the question of whether journalistic independence — also vital to NPR consumers — was as solid as listeners have a right to expect. In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities. First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment. Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”

Now, having said all this, I encourage you to read Roberts’ story in the Post, and I’m going to order Totenberg’s book, mostly because I always found her to be a good journalist and I’m interested in what will be in this book.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

  • One of the most popular shows in the history of TV returns for its 31st season Friday night: “Dateline NBC.” The season premiere will be a two-hour special from correspondent Keith Morrison on the murder of star cyclist Anna Moriah Wilson. It’s called “The Last Ride” and will air at 9 p.m. Eastern.
  • The Washington Post’s Linda Chong, Rachel Lerman and Jeremy B. Merrill with “Elon Musk’s 19,000 tweets reveal his complicated relationship with Twitter.”
  • Rolling Stone’s Adam Rawnsley and Asawin Suebsaeng with “Alex Jones Spied on His Wife and Ex-Wife, Texts Reveal.”
  • Speaking of Jones, he is back in court for a second trial to determine how much he should pay the families of the Sandy Hook students killed in the 2012 school shooting. Jones initially claimed the shooting was a hoax. Here’s the latest trial coverage from The New York Times.
  • Gayle King, co-host of “CBS Mornings,” has been chosen to receive the 39th Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism from Arizona State University. King will be honored during a ceremony in Phoenix next February. Past winners include news anchors Lester Holt, Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; and newspaper journalists Dean Baquet, Ben Bradlee, Helen Thomas and Bob Woodward.
  • The Associated Press’ Isabel Debre with “Mass firing at UAE newspaper raises question of censorship.”
  • Ben Williams has been named executive features editor of The Washington Post. As the Post noted in its announcement, features is one of the Post’s largest departments with more than 100 journalists. Williams is the former editorial director of GQ’s website and, before that, was an editor at New York Magazine.

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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…
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