March 23, 2022

We are in the midst of two major news stories: Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The media — especially the news networks and major publications — are juggling both stories, either of which would thoroughly dominate the news cycle if not for the other.

On Tuesday afternoon, the main headline on The New York Times website was: “Russia Cracks Down on Dissent as Invasion Stalls.” The websites for The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, NBC News and USA Today all led with Russia-Ukraine.

At the exact same time, the main headline on the website for The Washington Post was “Jackson defends her record from Republican attacks.” The websites for ABC News, Fox News, CBS News and The Boston Globe all led with the Supreme Court.

CNN managed to highlight both equally on its homepage.

But all the major news outlets dedicated resources to covering both stories thoroughly and for good reason — what we are seeing right now could impact the country and world for years to come. This is especially true, of course, when it comes to Ukraine, which will continue to be a major story for the foreseeable future. While what’s happening in Ukraine continues to be bleak, it’s imperative that news organizations keep making it the dominant story — even though audiences likely check out from time to time because the narrative and images are just so depressing.

Only rare stories, such as the Supreme Court hearings and maybe COVID-19, can edge out news outlets leading their coverage with Ukraine.

Interestingly, ABC News actually led its “World News Tonight” newscast with something else completely: severe storms, including a nasty tornado outbreak, sweeping through the southeastern part of the country. It then went to the Jackson story. Then Ukraine.

Anchor David Muir emailed me right after the newscast that the decision was made to lead with the weather because tornado warnings were posted right before they went on the air.

Muir also said that he’s headed back to the Ukraine-Poland border and Warsaw to anchor for the rest of the week. After meeting with NATO and European allies in Brussels, President Joe Biden will be in Warsaw later in the week to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Alarming threats

CNN’s chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, had an exclusive interview Tuesday with Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the interview, Peskov repeatedly refused to rule out using nuclear weapons. When asked under what conditions Putin would use nuclear weapons, Peskov said, “… if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be.”

Peskov admitted that Putin has not yet achieved his goal in Ukraine. Peskov called it a “special military operation” and said it was “going on strictly in accordance with the plans and the purposes that were established beforehand.”

Here are some notable pieces about Russia-Ukraine

Here are some notable pieces about Jackson’s confirmation hearings

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The buzz at BuzzFeed

Major shake-ups at BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.

Editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs and two other top editors are leaving the company just ahead of expected cuts in the newsroom. Deputy editor-in-chief Tom Namako and executive editor of investigations Ariel Kaminer also are leaving. Namako has already announced he is heading to NBC News Digital to become its executive editor.

Samantha Henig, executive editor of strategy, will be the interim editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed News until a permanent replacement is found.

Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds reports that, in a note to staff on Tuesday, CEO Jonah Peretti wrote he and Henig “will talk to BuzzFeed News later today about our plans to position BuzzFeed News to thrive in the current media ecosystem, accelerate its path to profitability, and become a stronger financial contributor to the overall BuzzFeed, Inc. business. This means that BuzzFeed News will need to get smaller, which we have reached out to discuss with the union–and to prioritize the areas of coverage our audience connects with most.”

Edmonds wrote, “A spokesman said that shrinking the company’s overall workforce by about 1.7% is part of the plan to avoid continuing losses.”

CNBC’s Alex Sherman wrote that, according to his sources, “BuzzFeed News, which is part of its content division, has about 100 employees and loses roughly $10 million a year.” And, Sherman wrote, “Several large shareholders have urged BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti to shut down the entire news operation.”

BuzzFeed had its first quarterly earnings report on Tuesday. Edmonds wrote, “As is often the case with these reports, BuzzFeed’s was a mixed bag. It did record healthy revenue growth — 24% — for the full year of 2021 and a profit. On the other hand, CEO Jonah Peretti conceded, the company is facing a tough challenge and some revenue declines and potential operating losses this year. The reason? Its young target audience is moving away from Facebook to newer platforms like TikTok and Instagram. BuzzFeed is adapting by producing more short-form videos. That builds audience and engaged time with the content. However, the added traffic does not yet generate significant advertising or commerce revenue as its display on Facebook has done.”

What’s in a name?

Ben Smith and Justin Smith (not related) have come up with a name for their new global media company. It will be called “Semafor” — a word used to describe a method of communication via two visual signals. Axios’ Sara Fischer had the scoop on the story.

Fischer wrote, “The word, which is roughly the same across dozens of languages, is meant to represent the duo’s global ambitions.”

There still isn’t a ton known about the details of the Smiths’ plans, but they continue to emphasize that what will set them apart from other news outlets is an emphasis on global news. Justin Smith told Fischer, “Given that critical and strategic focus … it was really important for us to have a name that had the same meaning regardless of your native tongue.”

The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum wrote, “Only a handful of English words are the same or similar in many foreign languages, including taxi, chai, pajama and soup.”

Ben Smith jokingly tweeted Tuesday morning, “After extended consideration, we are not going to name our new news organization SOUP. Sorry @grynbaum.”

Psaki staying home

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, speaking to reporters last week. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki will not be going with President Joe Biden on his trip to Europe. Why? She has tested positive for COVID-19.

In an announcement on Twitter, Psaki wrote, “I had two socially-distanced meetings with the President yesterday, and he is not considered a close contact as defined by CDC guidance. I am sharing the news of my positive test today out of an abundance of transparency. The President tested negative today via PCR test.”

Psaki added, “Thanks to the vaccine, I have only experienced mild symptoms. In alignment with White House COVID-19 protocols, I will work from home and plan to return to work in person at the conclusion of a five-day isolation period and a negative test.”

This is the second time in five months that Psaki tested positive for COVID-19.

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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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