Well, that didn’t take long.
Just the other day and seemingly out of nowhere, the world’s richest man gobbled up stock in Twitter and became the social media company’s largest shareholder, collecting about a 9% stake.
That was, hard to believe now, just a couple of weeks ago. At the time, The Verge’s Andrew J. Hawkins wrote, “So strap in — it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Indeed it has been.
In what felt like the time it takes to type up 280 characters, Musk went from looking like he was going to join the Twitter board to hinting he had lost interest to wanting to buy the whole company. Through it all, social media observers rubbed their temples and raised their brows, dreading the thought of Musk taking over. Meanwhile, far-right types cheered on Musk to buy the company and dismantle it and build it back to a place where they could spread their politics, even those that dipped into conspiracy theories and propaganda, under the banner of “free speech.”
Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but this much is true: In seemingly a flash, Elon Musk has bought Twitter for roughly $44 billion.
So what happens now?
Well, for starters, nothing is likely to happen immediately. While an agreement is in place, this is still a complicated deal that, to repeat, is worth $44 billion — with a B. That doesn’t get wrapped up on the back of a napkin in an afternoon. It will take weeks, maybe months, before all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed.
But during that time, there certainly will be plenty of conjecture. And concern. And, you would assume, some changes.
The New York Times’ Melina Delkic wrote there are “Four ways Twitter could change under Elon Musk.”
The biggest question many have is what Musk means when he advocates for “free speech.” While it’s an admirable sentiment, what does that look like on social media? Does that mean anything goes?
Can people spread misinformation and disinformation? Can they lie? Can they make threats?
Musk believes content moderators go too far in limiting what is allowed. He has said, “Well, I think we would want to err on the, if in doubt, let the speech, let it exist. But if it’s a gray area, I would say let the tweet exist. But obviously in a case where there’s perhaps a lot of controversy, you’re not necessarily going to promote that tweet. I’m not saying I have all the answers here.”
That’s the scary part: He needs to have all the answers now that he is taking over Twitter.
On Monday, Musk tweeted, “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”
Again, sounds admirable on the surface, but we’ve seen what happens when Twitter users have unfettered access to say whatever they want: widespread belief in misinformation that threatens our democracy and public health.
Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog, said in a statement, “Elon Musk will unwind a whole range of very basic protections against harassment, abuse, and disinformation that Twitter has spent years putting into practice — effectively opening the floodgates of hate and lies and using Twitter’s position as a market leader to pressure other social media companies to backslide. Musk may claim that this is about freedom of speech, but don’t be fooled — this is about ideology. Musk made that clear himself when he talked about his desire for liberals and others to become ‘red pilled.’ Now, with control of Twitter, he has a massive tool to distribute those red pills. This is radicalization.”
In his first statement after an agreement was reached, Musk tweeted, “Yesss!!” with hearts, stars and rockets. It included a quote from Musk that said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.
Next up: What about Donald Trump? The former president was kicked off Twitter because of his role and comments regarding the Jan. 6 insurrection. While Musk has not publicly commented on whether he would allow Trump back on to Twitter, Musk’s “free speech” beliefs might lead him to allow Trump back on.
Trump, however, is trying to get his own social media platform, Truth Social, off the ground. On Monday, Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo asked Trump Media and Technology Group CEO Devin Nunes what would happen if Trump was allowed to rejoin Twitter.
Nunes said, “Well, I can only report what he said and he said he really doesn’t have an interest in going on Twitter. And my guess is that it will continue to be the same.” Nunes added, “Twitter right now is nothing but a PR wire. It’s got a global footprint, but there’s just nobody there. I mean, how do you explain how we have more engagement in Truth Social than they have on Twitter.”
OK, it’s simply ridiculous to suggest Truth Social is a bigger deal than Twitter, and it’s hard to imagine Trump will stay off Twitter if he’s allowed back on. Then again, for what it’s worth (and I’m not buying it), Trump himself told Fox News on Monday, “I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on Truth. I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on Truth.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Rachel Lerman wrote, “Musk has said he wants to make Twitter’s algorithm more transparent, including letting people see if their tweets were promoted or demoted. He said he wants to make the algorithm that recommends whether a tweet gets promoted or demoted ‘open source,’ or available for the public to view and improve upon. He said he believes that will help prevent ‘behind the scenes manipulation.’”
Musk also wants to rid the social media site of bots, tweeting just last week, “If our twitter bid succeeds, we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!”
So is there anything that might be good about Musk taking over?
Well, one potential change that could be extremely popular among users is an edit button. It would allow users to go back into tweets and fix typos and grammatical errors — something that you cannot do now and something that most users would like. Although, that too could present a whole other set of problems, such as the message of tweets being changed after they’ve already been posted.
But now we all wait to see what’s next.
Axios’ Dan Primack wrote, “This is an earthquake in global media and politics, where Twitter hosts the discourse.” Primack added, “It’s sure to be criticized by those who disagree with Musk’s laissez-faire views on content moderation and cheered by those who believe Twitter has been too heavy-handed with its block button.”
Looks like the ride is only going to get bumpier.
For example …
NBC News reporter Ben Collins, who covers disinformation, extremism and the internet, had an interesting Twitter thread that started with, “There are plenty of models for where this site is likely headed. I’m on those sites all day. I cover extremism and lies for a living. You’re not gonna like it.”
Collins goes on to tweet, “Other than being filled with death threats, racial slurs, and fake recipes for play-doh that actually produce napalm, the sites are simply unusable from a basic user experience level. Admins get bored of running a hellsite filled with garbage and let the bad stuff dominate.”
Then he adds, “There are plenty of ways this could work out fine. Pushing through beta stuff in a backlog — like an edit button — might make the site jankier right away but better in the long run. But it’s not going to be a public company, so this makes decisions and data less transparent.”
Collins goes on to make more points you should read and closes with, “Anyway, there’s a lot more at play here than just ‘Will Donald Trump be allowed back on here?’ Who knows! Maybe? Probably? There are a lot more ways this site can be dramatically affected by an owner committed to using a hammer and not a scalpel.”
More news and reactions to the Musk-Twitter news
- Axios’ Julia Shapero with “Everything Elon Musk wants to change about Twitter.”
- The New York Times’ Kate Conger with “Twitter Employees Search for Answers as Musk Takeover Becomes Reality.”
- The Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce with “Elon Musk’s paradoxical vision of running Twitter: Less democracy, more freedom.”
- In her 5-Minute Fix newsletter, The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips writes, “What are Musk’s politics, and will they shape this platform? Twitter is inherently political. Besides being free-speech and anti-regulation, Musk’s politics are all over the place. Sometimes he says he’s a socialist; sometimes he says he’s an independent. He’s championed climate change efforts but also tweeted ‘Pronouns suck.’”
One final thought on Twitter (for today’s newsletter, that is)
CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter was asked on air: Is Twitter really that important?
In part, Stelter said, “Twitter matters much more for communication purposes than as a business. It has struggled as a business. If you say, ‘Is it that important?’ Well, no, it’s not that important as a business. But as a communications platform, even in emergencies … as a way for politicians and celebrities to communicate and get messages out, it is important, it is a utility in that way. But as I said, it doesn’t feel like the future anymore. It feels like something you’re required to do. If you’re in a public life, it feels like a requirement rather than something you enjoy, rather than a leisure activity. Maybe Elon Musk can change all that. I think if you’re a Twitter user, you don’t go quit your account. You go see what he does next.”
CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart had a big-time breaking news story Monday: “Mark Meadows’ 2,319 text messages reveal Trump’s inner circle communications before and after January 6.”
CNN wrote, “The never-before-seen texts include messages from Trump’s family — daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and son Donald Trump Jr. — as well as White House and campaign officials, Cabinet members, Republican Party leaders, January 6 rally organizers, Rudy Giuliani, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, Sean Hannity and other Fox hosts. There are also text exchanges with more than 40 current and former Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. The texts include everything from plans to fight the election results to surprising and unexpected reactions on January 6 from some of Trump’s staunchest allies.”
For example, Greene texted Meadows on Jan. 6, “Mark I was just told there is an active shooter on the first floor of the Capitol Please tell the President to calm people This isn’t the way to solve anything.”
Over several months, Meadows also had text exchanges with Fox News hosts, as well as journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Politico, Bloomberg, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. No surprise, but he frequently exchanged text messages with Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity, who appeared to be working with Meadows on making sure Trump voters got out to vote.
As an example, on Election Day 2020, Hannity asked Meadows about the turnout in North Carolina. Meadows responded, “Stress every vote matters. Get out and vote.”
Hannity wrote back: “Yes sir. On it. Any place in particular we need a push.”
Meadows wrote back, “Pennsylvania. NC AZ. Nevada.”
Hannity texted: “Got it. Everywhere.”
In case you forgot, that’s one of the most powerful figures at a network that has the name “news” in its title.
For more, check out this CNN story: “READ: Text messages Sean Hannity, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ivanka Trump and others sent to Mark Meadows.”
CNN’s John Berman returned to the air Monday and recounted his scary ordeal running in the Boston Marathon last week. Berman was doing just fine, cruising along in mile 24 of the 26-mile race.
“And that’s the last thing I remember about the race,” Berman said.
Berman said the next thing he knew, he was in an emergency room with a dozen or more people surrounding him. Although he doesn’t remember, Berman checked into the medical tent — or was checked in by someone who saw him struggling — at mile 25 of the marathon. He said his temperature at the ER was 104, his blood pressure was “wicked low” and his heart rate was “very, very fast.” He also was disoriented.
Berman ended up spending three nights in the hospital, mostly getting hydrated, and has been told there should be no lingering effects.
Remember his start
“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame on Sunday evening in Las Vegas.
Ahead of the ceremony, Holt spoke with his former MSNBC co-anchor Ashleigh Banfield for a NAB main stage session as part of her mentoring program, Rising Tide.
During his induction speech, Holt said, “I love broadcasting. I love journalism. When I was 15 years old growing up in Northern California, at night I would lay awake in my bed with my transistor radio trying to pull in scratchy signals from distant radio stations in Los Angeles and other big markets. I’d study how the DJs would talk up records or read the news. I would sit — I realize what a nerd I was now as I say this — but I would sit in front of a cassette recorder and practice my announcing skills. And I had no doubt that someday I would get that break, I would be a broadcaster. That break came more than 45 years ago. It’s hard to imagine I have been doing this for that long — first in radio and soon after television. And every day since has been a stop on an amazing adventure.”
It’s just the latest honor for Holt, who received the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism in 2018.
A new president
Jodie Ginsberg has been named the new president of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ginsberg will succeed Joel Simon, who stepped down at the end of 2021 after 15 years. Ginsberg, 44, has been CEO of Internews Europe since March 2020. She was previously the CEO of Index on Censorship and also worked for more than a decade as a foreign correspondent and newsroom leader at Reuters.
In a statement, Ginsberg said, “The past two years have shown just how vital a role the press plays in our global world. Journalists help hold power to account, expose corruption and injustice and shine a spotlight on the most important issues of our day — from health to climate to social change. For that, far too many face a growing threat of violence and harassment. I am determined to help reverse this trend and am honored to be leading CPJ at such a critical juncture.”
CPJ board chair Kathleen Carroll said, “Journalism is under attack like never before from repressive governments, despots and criminals, and CPJ’s work is more important than ever. Jodie Ginsberg is an accomplished advocate and talented journalist with first-hand knowledge of some of the perils journalists face.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. It defends the rights of journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal. It was founded in 1981.
The Emancipator launches, the Baltimore Banner is getting close
For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.
After a year’s gestation, The Emancipator, a news site aimed at “reframing the conversation on racial justice and equity,” launched Monday.
It is a joint project of The Boston Globe and Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research. Like the Globe’s Stat, a health and biotech site, the content is national rather than regional in scope. And as the capsule mission statement suggests, its first-day content leans heavily toward essays and takeouts rather than breaking news.
The inaugural postings include one that takes head-on identifying a “throughline” from The Emancipator and The Liberator, anti-slavery publications from the early 1800s by Northern white radicals, to the planned 2022 site of commentary by Black Americans and people of color. Co-founder Ibram X. Kendi contributes a piece from the 1820 launch issue of The Emancipator, reimagined with “racism” substituted for “slavery” and “antiracist” for “antislavery.” It reads fine with his revisions.
(Co-founder Bina Venkataraman, editorial page editor of the Globe, and three members of The Emancipator’s advisory board added shorter commentaries adapted from other editorials in 19th-century publications).
The debut issue includes a range of material, even several astringent comics.
Another closely-watched digital launch, The Baltimore Banner, mailed an introductory email note last week and a newsletter Monday giving the flavor of what is to come when the venture hits full stride later this year. Already the Banner has a number of affiliated “creatives in residence” and promises a regular section of solutions journalism aimed at testing what works and doesn’t in confronting the city’s challenges.
The Banner was created with a pledge of $50 million in startup support from billionaire Stewart Bainum Jr. last year after a failed attempt to buy The Baltimore Sun or all of Tribune Publishing. CEO Imtiaz Patel told me by email that 30 editorial staffers have already been hired with more than 20 additional news jobs posted.
Here’s a stunner. New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand is reporting that football analyst Drew Brees might move from NBC over to Fox Sports. Brees works as a studio analyst on “Sunday Night Football” and as a game analyst on NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame football.
This past offseason has been a wild game of musical chairs for NFL announcers. The big move was Fox Sports’ longtime No. 1 team Joe Buck and Troy Aikman moving over to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Kevin Burkhardt was named to replace Buck, but Fox has yet to name a replacement for Aikman.
The likely replacement is former NFL tight end Greg Olsen, who is already with Fox. Brees could replace Olsen on Fox Sports’ No. 2 team.
Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy wrote Monday that Fox could go with a three-person booth for its top broadcast team. McCarthy wrote Burkhardt could be joined by Olsen and one other from a list that could include recently-retired NFL coach Sean Payton, ex-Fox analyst and current San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. It’s hard to imagine Lynch leaving the 49ers, but perhaps Brees could fit into a three-person booth with Burkhardt and Olsen.
Marchand broke more NFL broadcasting news on Monday with this: “Kay Adams leaving NFL Network’s ‘GMFB’ and eyeing Amazon.”
- The Washington Post’s Kim Bellware and Elahe Izadi with “A fight over a vaccine column could kill one of the oldest alt-weeklies.”
- The latest “Sway” podcast from The New York Times’ Kara Swisher: “Tina Brown on Harry and Meghan’s ‘scorched earth’ exit.”
- The Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times won the 2021 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism for its series “Poisoned.” Written by reporters Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray, the project revealed the dangerous work conditions of a lead-smelting plant in Tampa. The $20,000 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism honors investigative reporting of stories of national significance where the public interest is being ill-served. It is presented annually by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and named for the late investigative journalist Worth Bingham. Here’s more on the award and this year’s winner.
- After 42 years, editorial cartoonist Steve Sack is retiring from The Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Here is his farewell. And here’s a piece from Scott Gillespie, The Star Tribune’s editorial editor and vice president.
- Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple with “Dean Baquet’s hands-on Times run is coming to a close.”
- Also in the Post, Jeremy Barr with “Chris Wallace says he’s ‘going to be fine’ after CNN Plus shuttering.”
- “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts tells “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that she nearly turned down a 2012 interview with President Barack Obama out of fear she might be outed. The Hollywood Reporter’s Kimberly Nordyke has the details.
- ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit tweeted he won’t be a part of the network’s NFL Draft coverage because doctors have found a blood clot in his system. Here’s his video message.
- The Wall Street Journal’s Jon Kamp, Stephanie Stamm and Elliot Bentley with this grim yet powerfully effective graphic/story: “U.S. Nears One Million COVID-19 Deaths.”
- A disturbing investigation from BuzzFeed News’ Kendall Taggart, John Templon, Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold: “The Private Equity Giant KKR Bought Hundreds Of Homes For People With Disabilities. Some Vulnerable Residents Suffered Abuse And Neglect.”
- The Washington Post’s Ben Strauss with “Welcome to the (other) birthplace of basketball. In central New York, a small town pins its hopes on a bold claim: that basketball was invented there. Can it prove its case?”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
More resources for journalists
- Covering COVID-19 with Al Tompkins (Daily briefing) — Poynter
- Will Work for Impact: Fundamentals of Investigative Journalism (Seminar) — April 27-May 18. Enroll now.
- Becoming a More Effective Writer: Clarity and Organization (Seminar) — May 3-27. Enroll now.
- A Journalist’s Guide to Covering Jails – Memphis (In-person Seminar) July 21-22 — Apply by June 1.
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