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September 13, 2022

When the sports website The Athletic launched in January 2016, one of its big selling points — aside from its ambitious and skillful sports coverage — was that it would be free from advertising. Subscribers could read The Athletic’s journalism, including long-form pieces, without being interrupted by ads.

But subscribers were met with a surprise when they went to the site on Monday: an advertisement for Bleu De Chanel.

And for many, the whole thing smelled rotten.

According to the comments under an Athletic story announcing the ads, readers were not happy.

“So you lied to us when we subscribed,” the first commenter said.

“If I’m paying for the service, there shouldn’t be ads. If you want ads, then I shouldn’t have to pay,” another said.

Many threatened to cancel their subscriptions.

The reason for the ads is quite obvious: money.

The New York Times bought The Athletic for $550 million in January and is looking for a return on its hefty investment. Ever since the Times took ownership, it felt like this day was coming. In fact, the Times even announced earlier this year that it would eventually run ads.

Simply put, there’s too much money to be made not to do it.

In announcing the use of ads, the Times said, “This launch signifies the next step in building a premium ad business to support one of the largest and most talented sports journalism newsrooms in the world. Our ad experience will focus on high-quality, relevant advertising placements that complement The Times’s subscription strategy. This means fewer, better ads alongside our in-depth stories, breaking news, extensive podcasts, and insider knowledge you can’t find anywhere else.”

In a note to subscribers, David Perpich, publisher of The Athletic, wrote, “The Athletic has a large and talented newsroom — with more than 400 full-time writers, editors and producers — that enables us to provide insightful, differentiated and timely coverage to our subscribers about their favorite teams and leagues around the world. The introduction of high-quality advertising should feel seamless and will allow us to invest further in this world-class sports journalism. And we’ve been deliberate about creating a premium and relevant advertising experience for our subscribers.”

Flowery words such as “seamless” and “high-quality” and “premium” are descriptions meant to dress up a strategy that won’t go over well with many readers. But, clearly, the strategy is necessary if the Times wants to start turning a profit with The Athletic. When the Times bought the site, The Athletic had 1.2 million subscribers. In its first-quarter earnings report for 2022, the Times reported The Athletic lost $6.8 million in February and March. From April to June, according to The New York Times’ Katie Robertson, adjusted operating losses at The Athletic were $12.6 million — down from about $19.4 million in the first quarter.

Reports are The Athletic has yet to turn a profit in any year, and the Times expects it will continue to lose money until at least 2023.

As far as what kinds of ads The Athletic will run, Axios’ Sara Fischer wrote, “The Athletic’s chief commercial officer Seb Tomich said the company is using the same types of ad products used in other Times products to create continuity within The Times experience and to bring advanced capabilities, like shopping, to The Athletic’s advertisers.”

Tomich told Fischer, “The Times has such a great advertising playbook for how to have premium ads and a subscription product, so that felt like a no brainer.”

Tomich told Fischer that rates for the ads will be on the “higher end of the market,” but as a whole, “We want to be largely in line with The Times.” Fischer wrote, “The average CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) of a display ad on The New York Times website is between $15 and $25, depending on how much targeting is layered on top of it.”

The Athletic will not offer a more expensive subscription so that readers can get out of seeing ads. Tomich told AdWeek’s Mark Stenberg, “I truly believe that premium digital ads are not something that people are paying to get out of. People are paying for the journalism — and as long as we don’t introduce a bunch of bad ads that get in the way of the experience, we are confident in our ability to grow both businesses side by side.”

The Times announced that following Chanel, there will be ads for Polestar and a technology campaign.

I’m a subscriber and regular reader of The Athletic. In fact, I’d go farther than that. I’d consider myself an avid reader. The ads Monday were certainly noticeable, especially after being accustomed to never seeing an ad on the site. I don’t know that I would call the experience “seamless,” but they weren’t overly intrusive and not enough to ruin the experience.

As Awful Announcing’s Joe Lucia wrote, “I can stomach the ads as long as they’re not intrusive. Once they start interfering with the reading experience, they become a burden and a disservice to subscribers. If that day comes, I wouldn’t be shocked if the company adds an ad-free tier for an extra cost to their subscription model.”

Haberman’s book

Former President Donald Trump drives a cart at Trump National Golf Club on Monday in Sterling, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“I’m just not going to leave.” That, apparently, is what former President Donald Trump told an aide in the days following the 2020 presidential election.

That’s according to the soon-to-be-released book about Trump by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman called, “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.” In an excerpt obtained by CNN, Haberman writes that Trump told another aide, “We’re never leaving. How can you leave when you won an election?”

Haberman wrote that Trump went from seemingly recognizing that he had lost the election to being defiant that he had won. The idea of refusing to leave the White House is not surprising when it comes to Trump, but it also had not been reported previously.

Because it’s now coming out in a book, Haberman is being criticized in some circles for holding on to information — a frequent criticism of reporters who write books about the subjects they cover.

Keith Olberman tweeted, “Trump: ‘I’m just not going to leave.’ Oh good, another fact, vital to the safety and continuation of the nation, that @maggieNYT withheld from the public for many months if not a year-and-a-half so she could put it in her (expletive) book.”

That was the general criticism — that Haberman withheld information that the public should have known before now.

Of course, we have no idea as to when Haberman learned of this particular detail, nor should it be assumed that not previously reporting Trump’s threats posed a national security threat.

In a statement to The Wrap’s Andi Ortiz, a Times spokesperson said, “Maggie Haberman took leave from The Times to write her book. In the course of reporting the book, she shared considerable newsworthy information with The Times. Editors decided what news was best suited for our news report.”

Back to Trump. As CNN’s Jeremy Herb wrote, “Trump’s vow that he would refuse to vacate the White House had no historical precedent, Haberman writes, and his declaration left aides uncertain as to what he might do next. The closest parallel might have been Mary Todd Lincoln, who stayed in the White House for nearly a month after her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated, the author noted.”

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper for the upcoming special report —  “American Coup: The January 6th Investigation,” which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern — Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney talked about the revelations in Haberman’s book.

Cheney, who is co-leader of the House select committee’s investigation into Jan. 6, told Tapper she had not seen the book. But she said, “… when you hear something like that, I think you have to recognize that we were in no man’s land and territory we’d never been in before as a nation. And when you think about, well, the Supreme Court would have sorted it out, you have to ask yourself, but who would have enforced the rulings of the court? And if you have a president who’s refusing to leave the White House, or who’s saying he refuses to leave the White House, then anyone who sort of stands aside and says someone else will handle it is themselves putting the nation at risk, because it’s clear that, when you’re at a moment that we faced, everyone’s got to stand up and take responsibility. And I think it’s not surprising that those are the sentiments that he reportedly expressed. I think, again, it just affirms the reality of the danger.”

Bream’s new gig

I should have mentioned this in Monday’s newsletter, but Shannon Bream took over this past weekend as the first permanent female host of “Fox News Sunday.”

In an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen, Bream said, “I hope what people will see on Sunday morning is not just folks inside the Beltway that they are frustrated with, but also people around the country that are doing meaningful things, that are bettering their community, that are entertaining Americans in a way that maybe gives them a break from the stresses of their day.”

She added, “There’s always going to be a part of the Sunday show that is going to be about pressing for accountability, for answers. But I like to have fun, too.”

Bream — who takes over hosting duties from Chris Wallace, who left for CNN last year — also did a Q&A with USA Today’s Charles Trepany, telling Trepany, “One of the first people to congratulate me was a really nice email I got from Chris. He talked about the standard the show had set, and he was really glad I was going to step into those shoes and gave me a great vote of confidence, which was very kind of him.”

Stelter’s next move

Former CNN journalist Brian Stelter. (NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx)

Brian Stelter has landed after being shoved out the door at CNN. It was announced Monday that the former “Reliable Sources” host will join the Shorenstein Center as the fall 2022 Walter Shorenstein Media & Democracy Fellow.

According to the announcement, Stelter will “convene a series of discussions about threats to democracy and the range of potential responses from the news media. These discussions with media leaders, policy makers, politicians, and Kennedy School students, fellows, and faculty will help deepen public and scholarly understanding about the current state of the information ecosystem and its impacts on democratic governance.”

In a high-profile move last month, CNN canceled “Reliable Sources,” which had been on for 30 years and was the network’s longest-running show. Stelter had been host for six years, and was the network’s lead media reporter. While CNN has not acknowledged it publicly, the narrative is that under new ownership and new CEO and chairman Chris Licht, CNN is looking to become a more centrist network and Stelter was pushed out because of his criticisms of Donald Trump and conservative media, especially Fox News.

Playing ball?

Will Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong be the next owner of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels? Sportico’s Eric Jackson and Scott Soshnick report Soon-Shiong is thinking about it.

The Angels are for sale and are expected to fetch about $2.5 billion. According to Forbes, Soon-Shiong is worth $6.9 billion. And Soon-Shiong has an interest in sports. He tried to buy baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers a decade ago and he owns a share of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.

Soon-Shiong declined to comment on Bill Shaikin’s story for the Los Angeles Times.

Soon-Shiong would not become the first newspaper owner to also own a Major League Baseball team. John Henry owns both the Boston Red Sox and The Boston Globe. And, among other sports-newspaper owners, Glen Taylor owns both the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and The Star Tribune.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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