October 6, 2022

Cable news’ musical chairs in prime time continue to play out, but there’s a twist with this game: There are more chairs than players.

CNN recently announced that Don Lemon is shifting from his 10 p.m. Eastern show to co-host a revamped morning show with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. That now leaves two prime-time anchor chairs for CNN to address. More on the other in a second.

But there’s more, including this interesting item in a recent edition of Oliver Darcy’s new “Reliable Sources” media newsletter for CNN. Darcy writes about Alex Wagner, the host of MSNBC’s 9 p.m. Eastern hour on Tuesdays through Fridays. That’s the spot that had been held by the popular Rachel Maddow, who now hosts just on Mondays while she’s off doing other projects for NBC Universal.

Darcy writes, “… from a ratings perspective, Wagner’s show has been anything but a success.”

Darcy writes that in September, “In the key 25-54 advertising demo, Wagner’s show lost 50% of Maddow’s audience, sinking from an average in 2021 of 304,000 demo viewers to 151,000 in 2022. And in total viewers, the numbers were down 34%, from 2.4 million to 1.6 million.”

Is anyone surprised by these numbers? Perhaps it says a little about Wagner, who wasn’t a household name before getting this prime piece of real estate in the cable news landscape. But it probably says more about Maddow’s popularity. Replacing her with anyone is a tall task. But because MSNBC, like other cable news networks, hasn’t stocked its bench with potential prime-time stars, finding replacements for big on-air personalities is becoming more difficult. Just consider CNN’s slow drag to replace Chris Cuomo in its 9 p.m. slot.

On top of that, interest in cable news overall, particularly when there isn’t a major news event happening, has waned since Donald Trump left the White House. Still, one former television executive told Darcy, “It’s way worse than: we don’t expect (Wagner) to perform at Rachel levels.” The exec went on to call the ratings plunge “brutal” and “very troubling.”

Wagner’s numbers come nowhere near what Sean Hannity gets on Fox News, but they are better than CNN’s 9 p.m. offering. Again, CNN has not permanently replaced Cuomo. Jake Tapper will host in that slot through the midterms and it’ll be intriguing to see if that bolsters CNN ratings and, perhaps, has CNN going back to the drawing board with its prime-time plans.

Twitter’s wild ride

While we wait to see how this whole Elon Musk-Twitter thing shakes out, The New York Times’ Kevin Roose weighs in with “Elon Musk’s Twitter Will Be a Wild Ride.”

Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter appears to be back on after he sent a letter to the social media company this week saying he’s willing to buy it again for the original terms he agreed to back in April. He had since tried to back out of the deal. The whole thing is headed to court later this month unless Musk’s last-second change-of-heart (again) is sincere and not some legal maneuver. (For now, the trial is scheduled to move forward. And, one more note, Reuters’ Chibuike Oguh reported one of Musk’s funders is pulling out.)

So what if this happens? What if the Musk-Twitter deal actually goes through? Roose makes six predictions:

  • He’s going to clean house, starting with firing Twitter’s chief executive, Parag Agrawal.
  • Employees will revolt.
  • Donald Trump will return to Twitter, along with a swarm of other right-wing culture warriors.
  • It probably won’t change the midterms, but 2024 could be the Elon Election.
  • Twitter will kill unpopular features, go after bots and introduce new subscription products.
  • Musk will remain the center of attention.

Roose goes into details on each of his predictions, which are entertaining and, more importantly, informative.

Gannett stock falls some more

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

The third quarter of 2022 is over (financial results to be reported in another month or so), but I don’t see any bounceback for Gannett since its bleak second-quarter report in early August.

Wall Street agrees. Gannett shares dipped below $2 in mid-September and have been trading in the $1.55 range this week. You might ask, hasn’t this been a rough period for the market in general? Yes, but Gannett was down 29% over the last month while the S&P and Dow Jones indices were off just 3%.

Gas prices have fallen some. But the cost of newsprint and getting paper editions delivered in a tight labor market remains elevated. Digital traffic, as measured by uniques and pageviews, is off throughout the news industry — a hit to Gannett’s substantial base of programmatic advertising, which is priced by total impressions.

The prospect of a possible recession leaves other advertisers holding back and some readers less willing to continue to pay for print subscriptions, much pricier than they were a few years ago.

I asked whether Gannett has seen any developments in the last quarter, and spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton replied, “Nothing noteworthy other than we are working through the challenging macroeconomic environment just like everyone else.” In Gannett’s case, that means many cost reductions, including 400 layoffs and leaving another 400 job vacancies open.

The company did report in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday that it has paid down $50 million of its $1.5 billion debt since June 30 and expects to sell $65 to $75 million in real estate and other assets during the full year of 2022.

Another core problem: While paid digital subscriptions to USA Today and its 200-plus regional dailies are growing at a healthy rate, those new revenues don’t come close to covering what’s being lost in print subscriptions and advertising.

As a result, CEO Mike Reed said in the second-quarter report that the company expects a return to profitability but not as quickly as hoped. For mature companies, Wall Street is not patient about waiting another year or two for an upturn.

A modest plus is that a low stock price is not catastrophic unless it prompts a vulture financial investor to jump in with a takeover bid. And it is hard to see who would be keen to acquire Gannett under present circumstances.

Baldwin reaches settlement

Actor Alec Baldwin in 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Actor Alec Baldwin has reached a settlement with the family of Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer who was shot and killed by Baldwin on the set of the movie “Rust” last year. Baldwin was practicing with a gun he was told was not loaded with live ammunition. Hutchins was shot, as was original director Joel Souza, who survived his injuries. Hutchins’ family sued Baldwin and other defendants for reckless conduct.

Interestingly, the film will go back into production with Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, serving as executive producer.

In a statement, Hutchins said, “I have no interest in engaging in recriminations or attribution of blame (to the producers or Mr. Baldwin). “All of us believe Halyna’s death was a terrible accident. I am grateful that the producers and the entertainment community have come together to pay tribute to Halyna’s final work.”

Well, ain’t this something

So The Daily Beast reports that Georgia GOP senatorial candidate Herschel Walker — who is pro-life and against abortion with no exceptions — paid to have an ex-girlfriend get an abortion in 2009 after she became pregnant with his child. The Daily Beast story comes loaded with plenty of evidence.

After denying the allegations and appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Monday night, Walker saw donations flood in. CBS News’ Aaron Navarro tweeted Wednesday afternoon, “CBS News has confirmed this morning’s reporting from Fox that Herschel Walker’s campaign has raised at least $500,000 since his appearance on Sean Hannity’s show Monday night (and after The Daily Beast story).”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote, “So, what’s next? That’s hard to tell — mostly because we live in a post-Donald Trump world.”

Cillizza wrote how the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump making inappropriate comments about women ultimately didn’t hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. Cillizza wrote, “The question is whether Trump fundamentally rewrote the rules of political scandals in 2016 or if he is simply the very rare exception to this still-existing rule.”

Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich wrote, “… this new revelation about Walker, who has denied the allegation, hasn’t affected our forecast of the Georgia Senate race — at least not yet. That’s because, for one, it doesn’t meet our definition of a scandal. As our forecast defines it, a scandal is a credible accusation of objective criminal or ethical wrongdoing. While Walker’s decision to pay for an abortion may have been hypocritical, it wasn’t illegal. And if being hypocritical were enough to qualify as ‘scandal-tarred,’ most politicians would be slapped with the label!”

Walker is in a race that is seen as a virtual toss-up with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Rakich adds, “And, of course, because this story is so recent, none of these polls account for Walker’s abortion controversy. The bad press Walker is receiving may very well damage his standing with voters.”

Rakich notes, “Warnock is currently polling 2 points ahead of Walker, so even if the controversy doesn’t hurt Walker, if it prevents him from gaining, that’s a problem for the Republican. But on the other hand, there might not be many voters left to turn on Walker. Democrats have been airing ads for weeks reminding voters of Walker’s past scandals.”

For more on this topic, check out The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake with “Herschel Walker, and the GOP’s declining demand for morality in leaders.”

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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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