Semafor — the global news site started by Ben Smith, the former New York Times media columnist and editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed before that, and Justin Smith, the former CEO of Bloomberg Media — finally launched on Tuesday. The Smiths, who are not related, announced their intentions way back in January and have spent the past 10 months hiring more than 50 staffers and raising $25 million.
On Tuesday, it launched and, honestly, it looks pretty cool. The homepage is busy. But still eye-catching.
The website, as perfectly described by the Associated Press’ David Bauder, “looks like a newspaper left out in the sun.” It went live first thing Tuesday morning, along with eight newsletters. For now, the site will be free to readers and supported by advertising. Eventually, perhaps in 12 to 18 months, the site will become a subscription site. For now, the Smiths want to build up name recognition.
Bauder wrote, “The founders also believe people suffer from information overload. While another media organization may seem an odd way to deal with that issue, they envision Semafor helping consumers make sense of all that’s out there. Stories contain separate sections that present the news, the author’s analysis, a counter to that viewpoint, perspective on how the issue is seen elsewhere in the world and a distillation of other stories on the topic.”
The site launched Tuesday with several big stories, including about Elon Musk’s rocket company, the future of Coca-Cola, the election campaign in Nigeria, Donald Trump’s new cause and the identity crisis at The New York Times, which was written by Ben Smith (more on that below). In addition, former Washington Post writer David Weigel interviewed Pennsylvania senatorial candidate John Fetterman.
In an introduction piece for the site, Ben Smith wrote, “… it’s come as a painful realization to me that the problem with news right now isn’t just that there aren’t enough reporters out there getting scoops. Readers, listeners, and viewers are drowning in a stew of assertions and opinions.”
Smith added, “Our approach is more literal, and it’s built from the core principles of journalism. We take people seriously when they say they know that reporters are human beings — and experts in their beats — who have views of their own. But they’d also like us to separate the facts from our views. They’d like us to be humble about the possibility of disagreement. And they’d like us to distill differing views, and gather global perspective.”
While the plan seems rather ambitious, here’s hoping Semafor is a success. More journalism, particularly from many of the talented people who are at Semafor, should be a good thing. The question is whether or not Semafor can really distinguish itself from all the other media outlets out there. How will it truly be different? That’s what the next several months will (or will not) show.
Meanwhile, it’s good to see Ben Smith return to writing about the media. Smith’s “The Media Equation” column for The New York Times had become a must-read because it was original in its content, deeply reported and really smart. The column typically dropped online on Sunday evenings and that’s when his new media newsletter will be sent out.
In his first piece for the new site, Smith writes about his old shop: “Inside the identity crisis at The New York Times.”
The details of Smith’s story are much too complicated to try and sum up in one tidy sentence or even paragraph. But it’s worth reading, especially if you’re interested in the media and/or The New York Times.
Another interesting note about the Times
In Smith’s piece about the Times, he talks to former Times opinion editor James Bennet, who was fired in June of 2020 in part over a column by Sen. Tom Cotton that called for sending the military into cities to suppress rioters and looters. It was the first time Bennet has spoken on the record about his departure from the Times.
Bennet told Smith that Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger “blew the opportunity to make clear that The New York Times doesn’t exist just to tell progressives how progressives should view reality. That was a huge mistake and a missed opportunity for him to show real strength. He still could have fired me.”
Bennet eventually signed off on an editor’s note about the Cotton column, saying the column “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”
Bennet told Smith, “My regret is that editor’s note. My mistake there was trying to mollify people.”
Smith has even more from Bennet regarding his firing, including Bennet saying about Sulzberger, “When push came to shove at the end, he set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me.”
And, oh, Bennet texted Smith about the Cotton op-ed: “One more thing that sometimes gets misreported: I never apologized for publishing the piece and still don’t.”
Here comes the other Cuomo
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned last year after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, is doing what it seems everyone else on the planet is doing: starting a podcast. According to Axios’ Sara Fischer, the podcast will be called “As a Matter of Fact.” New episodes will be released each Thursday starting this week.
The podcast will cover the news of the day, as well as policy solutions. The show’s first guest is former White House communications director and Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci.
Cuomo tells Fischer that the first two episodes will be free, but others will be paywalled. Hmm, good luck with that. Not only can viewers listen to the podcast, but there will also be video. The podcast will be on the subscription podcast platform Quake.
Cuomo told Fischer, “There’s a fundamental problem with the entire system here. We have such division of people and we have such dysfunction of government, and part of it is this hyper-partisan, extreme dialogue that goes on.
Strike in Pittsburgh
Unionized journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette went on strike Tuesday. My colleague Angela Fu wrote about it for the Poynter website and reported that the 100 or so journalists listed their demands: lift the impasse on contract negotiations; reinstate the terms of their previous contract, which expired in 2017; and return to the bargaining table.
Guild president Zack Tanner said, “Our demands continue to be the same. As far as the timeframe goes, nothing can be certain in the strike, but we think our demands are pretty reasonable.”
Fu reported that Post-Gazette director of marketing Allison Latcheran wrote in an emailed statement that the newspaper will continue to serve its readers and advertisers despite the ongoing strike.
Latcheran wrote, “ We currently await the ruling by the National Labor Relations Board regarding the Newspaper Guild’s claim of unfair labor practices by the Post-Gazette and are confident that the company will prevail. Over the past three years, Guild employees’ top wage scales have increased 8%.”
Pelosi still wants to punch Trump
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is doubling down on her comments that she wanted to punch former President Donald Trump. Last week, the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, released previously unseen video of what Pelosi was doing when insurrectionists were storming the Capitol. In the video, Pelosi can be heard saying that if Trump came to Capitol Hill, she would punch him out.
She didn’t back down during an interview Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
Pelosi told Mitchell, “I would have punched him out. I said I would have punched him out. I would have gone to jail. And I would have been happy to do so for our country. He wouldn’t have had the courage to come to the Hill. He’s all talk. But let me just say this. Our democracy is at stake, when you define democracy as integrity of the vote. They want to suppress the vote. They have been doing that for a long time. They want to nullify the results of an election. They’re even proposing that, after an election, if they don’t like the results, they will change the rules that would have governed that election retroactively.”
Speaking of Trump, Mitchell asked Pelosi about a new poll that shows 39% of voters would vote for an election denier as long as they agreed with their stances on other issues.
“I can’t explain it,” Pelosi said. “I think it’s a tragedy for our country that people don’t value the vision that our founders had about a democracy, what our men and women in uniform fight for, about freedom and our democracy, here and other places in the world and, again, what that means to our children.”
Part of what this newsletter does is amplify good journalism. So I wanted to point out this important work from the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald that focuses on people arrested in Florida for what the state claimed was illegal voting. Check out the videos in the story. Even the police seemed confused and almost apologetic.
Superb work, through a public records request, by reporter Lawrence Mower in “Police cameras show confusion, anger over DeSantis’ voter fraud arrests.”
Mower writes, “The never-before-seen footage, obtained by the Times/Herald through public records requests, offers a personal glimpse of the effects of (Gov. Ron) DeSantis’ efforts to root out perceived voter fraud.
- Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo with “‘We have faced threats this big before’: Rachel Maddow’s news podcast is a history lesson on American democracy under assault.”
- CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Elizabeth Stuart and Jeremy Herb with “Bob Woodward releasing new audiobook ‘The Trump Tapes’ with eight hours of recorded interviews.”
- In the latest episode of “The Interview” podcast, Mediaite’s Aidan Mclaughlin interviews New York Times writer-at-large Jim Rutenberg. The two talk about the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.
- My Poynter colleague Angela Fu with “Study by six Gannett unions finds racial and gender pay inequities.”
- The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Krouse with “Netflix Gains 2.4 Million New Subscribers, Reversing Trend.”
- A couple of days old, but still worth the read. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple with “Election denier Kari Lake pleads with CNN: ‘Can we talk about issues?’”
- Starting next season, the NFL will have a game on Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving. The game will air on Amazon Prime Video.
The Washington Post’s Caroline Kitchener with “Desperate pleas and smuggled pills: A covert abortion network rises after Roe.”
For Slate, Imogen West-Knights with “My Eight Deranged Days on the ‘Gone Girl’ Cruise.”
Finally, as the NBA gets underway, a fun list with really cool graphics. It’s The Washington Post’s Ben Golliver and Artur Galocha with “The top 100 NBA players of the 2022-23 season.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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