September 28, 2022

Good morning, everyone. Tom Jones is on vacation, but the team at Poynter is keeping tabs on the latest media news and analysis. Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know today.

The Denton Record-Chronicle announced Tuesday that it is being acquired by KERA public media in Dallas, 40 miles to its south. The tentative deal resembles a much bigger one from earlier this year when WBEZ in Chicago acquired the Chicago Sun-Times, turning the Sun-Times into a nonprofit in the process.

Publisher and owner Bill Patterson said the transaction should ensure the Record-Chronicle’s future, reducing operating expenses as functions are absorbed by KERA. “This arrangement gives us the opportunity and the ability to preserve local journalism for the people of Denton County,” Patterson said. The Record-Chronicle has simultaneously been winding down its print product in favor of a digital report.

An intermediary and adviser in the transaction is the National Trust for Local News, an ambitious nonprofit whose focus is on developing the financial end of new business models for local news. The trust previously put together the Colorado News Conservancy, which owns a number of news outlets near Denver.

Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder of the trust, told Poynter in an interview, “We see this as a model that can scale,” tapping into the expansion and fund-raising capacity of public radio and television. The trust aims to build a $300 million venture philanthropy fund, but is intentionally starting slowly to identify different structures that can work.

Patterson’s family owned the Record-Chronicle for most of the 20th century. They sold it to The Dallas Morning News in 1999. Patterson stayed on as publisher and bought it back in 2018. The financial pressures of the last few years had left him worried about its future and looking for a  strategy that would leave Denton with a hometown paper.

A new co-host at Code Switch

NPR on Monday announced Lori Lizarraga as the newest co-host of “Code Switch,” its podcast that tackles the subject of race. The Emmy and Murrow-winning journalist will join current co-hosts Gene Demby, B.A. Parker, and senior correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates.

“As a first-generation daughter of immigrants, I can’t say enough what an honor and privilege it is to be joining the dedicated Code Switch team at NPR,” Lizarraga said in a statement. “For years, I have introduced myself as a ‘race and culture reporter’ when the truth is where there are people there is race and culture. This beat is in everything and the folks at Code Switch have pioneered an entire award-winning show proving, year after year, diverse stories told by diverse people are essential for everyone.”

Lizarraga is the daughter of Ecuadorian and Mexican immigrants and a graduate of Southern Methodist University. She grew up in Texas and now lives in Philadelphia.

Lizarraga previously reported at television stations including KGET/Telemundo in Bakersfield, California, and KUSA 9News in Denver, Colorado. In March 2021, she wrote a commentary piece for Westword about her alleged discriminatory experience at 9News, where she said she was the third on-air Latina reporter to be dismissed in less than a year. KUSA managers clashed with her over the term “undocumented” versus “here illegally” or “illegally in the country,” which Lizarraga said became a point of contention. She also said she received written warnings for interacting on Twitter with several Black community leaders she described as friends and mentors, and was later placed on an “improvement plan.”

Her piece drew major attention. NPR, Axios and others covered her and other Latinas’ experiences at the station. When Lizarraga shared her commentary on Twitter, she wrote, “Journalism is powerful. But if it doesn’t represent all of our communities fairly and honestly, it doesn’t hold the same power for everyone. That’s what I was thinking about when I finally decided to write this. Thank you for hearing my story.”

When 9News didn’t renew her contract, Lizarraga moved on to work as a race and culture contributor, sharing her diversity, equity and inclusion expertise and community journalism with organizations like PEN America, Open Media Foundation, and more, according to her website.

“For me and for my family, I am so excited to bring my Latinidad and my passion for storytelling to Code Switch and its loyal listeners,” Lizarraga said in NPR’s press release.

Good news at Hearst

Hearst, which owns more than 40 daily papers and magazines, is expecting $12 billion in revenue this year, Axios reported. That’s up slightly from $11.9 billion last year.

The company, whose titles include the San Francisco Chronicle and Cosmopolitan, has seen steady growth in digital-only subscriptions over the past five years. In 2018, Hearst had 65,000 subscribers. Now it has 338,000.

CEO Steve Swartz attributed the growth in profits to the diversification of the company’s revenue streams. More than 40% of its profits come from specialty media and data and software businesses.

Other media companies have also reported growing digital subscriptions but have struggled to increase revenue. Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the U.S., had 1.87 million digital-only subscribers at the end of the second quarter, up 35% compared to the same period last year. But overall revenue fell 6.9% and the company now expects a net loss of $60 million to $70 million this year. Gannett laid off 400 employees as a result.

Lee Enterprises, which owns more than 70 papers, has had more luck. The company has already hit its digital goals, reporting at the end of quarter three that digital-only subscribers increased 49% and total 501,000. Though Lee now says it is on track to hit its annual revenue goals, it stumbled earlier this year and made plans to lay off 400 people in 2022.

AI don’t think so

Can artificial intelligence replace journalists? Some people seem to think so. According to a survey from Boston University’s College of Communication and Ipsos, more young people than old and more men than women are open to the idea.

“By more than 30 percentage points, Americans ages 18 to 34 surveyed were more receptive than those 55 or older when considering AI replacing people working as journalists, hiring managers, trial judges, spiritual advisers or leaders of religious congregations. Respondents ages 35 to 54 were in-between,” states a release about the Media & Technology Survey.

Read the findings here. We’d love to see if AI can sit through hours of a city council meeting.

Bentley and Beemer and Hank, oh my

Consider this your news palate cleanser: Last week, The Washington Post published a guide to the new animals that have been added to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute since 2000, and even if you don’t live in D.C., you’re going to want to meet these guys. Through vivid, crisp photos, you’ll get much closer to the Amur tigers, rock hyrax, Vietnamese mossy frogs and all the other creatures than you ever would in person.

“Without any glass or fencing between you and the animal,” the authors write, “you’re able to fully grasp the beauty and wonder of Mother Nature.”

You can meet the animals here.

Media tidbits

  • Though the Jan. 6 committee scheduled for Wednesday was postponed due to Hurricane Ian, the Los Angeles Times offered a take on the committee’s political implications. Profiling a House race in a swing district, the Times found Republican voters cared most about the economy and Democrats about abortion. Interest in Jan. 6 was reasonably high, too — but not as a campaign issue. “In one swing California suburb, Jan. 6 is minor subplot as voters focus on pocketbooks.”
  • The Robert R. McCormick Foundation on Tuesday announced $7.5 million investments in Block Club Chicago, Capitol News Illinois, Injustice Watch, and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Medill will use its $2.4 million grant to launch the Medill Local News Accelerator, a program to spur innovation and improve the long-term sustainability of independent Chicago news organizations. The reader-funded, nonprofit Block Club Chicago will use its $1.6 million grant to help build an investigative team. “When reporters are embedded in the communities they cover, they’re able to report with context, respect and deep knowledge instead of parachuting in,” said Stephanie Lulay, Block Club executive editor and co-founder.

Today’s Poynter Report was written by Amaris Castillo, Angela Fu, Kristen Hare and Rick Edmonds. 

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