By:
May 15, 2024

In Tuesday’s newsletter, I wrote about the latest New York Times-Siena College-Philadelphia Inquirer poll that showed Donald Trump leading Joe Biden in five of the six swing states that could very well decide the 2024 presidential election.

However, even as you read the poll, the nagging thought is just what to make of polls at this time of year — even ones with such striking numbers as this one, which showed Trump with solid leads in important states such as Georgia and Nevada, where he is up by double digits.

I asked Chuck Todd, NBC News chief political analyst and the former moderator of “Meet The Press,” about such polls. What do they mean? Should we pay attention to them? Should we, the media, cover them? What should be made of polls six months away from the election?

He told me in an email that part of the issue is that aggregation sites have created an expectation that all polls are the same, adding, “If I aggregated a New York strip steak with a dog turd, I promise you the dog turd won’t taste like the steak, but the steak will definitely smell and taste like (expletive).”

Todd says to think of it this way: In what other area do we take bad data, mix it with good data and assume we are getting better data?

That’s not to say polls have no value at all. Todd said, “These polls become more valuable in hindsight. They help explain to us and help us understand what was happening better once we know the final result. So I’m glad to have them now so I can understand the electorate better down the road. But if folks simply are looking for these polls to be a sneak peek at election night, they are sadly mistaken.”

In a column last month, Todd wrote, “For the next six months, a week won’t go by without three to five poll releases both nationally and in the battleground states. And yet, as much of a numbers junkie as I am, as much of a data nerd I proclaim to be, I’m going to do my best to take every result with a grain of salt. And if I pay attention to anything in these polls, it will be trends that continue for more than two straight polls.”

Here’s the thing: When you have numerous polls showing varying numbers, it’s hard to draw any conclusions, especially when you factor in the margin of error in the polls. What should we think at that point?

In a column Monday, NBC News political editor Mark Murray wrote, “The answer: We don’t know. Whether that idea is maddening or liberating, all we know is that the race remains close.”

Murray added, “Now, polls help us understand whether Biden and Trump are underperforming or overperforming among key demographic groups. They inform us about what issues are important to voters, they provide clues about voter interest and possible turnout scenarios, and they help us gauge whether a contest is close or not. Can they tell us who’s ahead — or who’s going to win — when one candidate is at 48% and the other is at 46%? No way.”

Be sure to read both columns from Todd and Murray to get a better understanding of polling and what it shows us.

The Times of the Athletic

The New York Times bought the sports site The Athletic at the start of 2022. In September 2023, the Times disbanded its own sports department and turned over most of its sports coverage to The Athletic. Even before then, it was promoting and displaying Athletic stories on the Times’ website.

Now The Athletic is fully integrated into the Times. If you go to The Athletic, the URL reads nytimes.com/athletic.

Now comes this news, as first reported by Axios’ Sara Fischer: Some staffers at The Athletic are in “active discussions” about forming a union. Fischer wrote, “Should employees choose to formally unionize, it would create yet another labor headache for the Times. The Gray Lady reached a new contract agreement with its newsroom union last May, after two years of bitter negotiations that included more than 1,100 staffers walking out in 2022.”

It’s unclear if there is enough support among staffers of The Athletic to form a union, but according to Fischer’s sources, the integration represents further uncertainty for some.

Fischer wrote, “The Athletic would likely need to form its own bargaining unit within the NewsGuild of New York and establish its own contract with management. Sources told Axios there have been conversations about a unionization effort between the NewsGuild and some staffers from The Athletic. Asked about active union discussions, Jen Sheehan, a spokesperson for the NewsGuild of New York, wouldn’t confirm talks but said, ‘It is our mission to ensure any media worker who wants to be in a union can be.’”

C-SPAN’s new CEO

New C-SPAN CEO Sam Feist. (Courtesy: C-SPAN)

C-SPAN has a new CEO and he’s a well-known name in the media industry. Sam Feist, the longtime Washington bureau chief and senior vice president for CNN, takes over the nonprofit public affairs network, which now includes three cable stations, a radio network, newsletters and podcasts. He takes over from co-CEOs Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain, who have been in that role since 2012. Feist will move into his new job later this summer.

In a statement, Feist said, “Our democracy needs C-SPAN now more than ever. I look forward to working with C-SPAN’s extraordinary and dedicated team to expand the network’s reach and meet new audiences where they are. C-SPAN is an American treasure and I could not be more excited to lead this essential institution.”

Feist joined CNN as an intern in 1989 and has done everything from operating cameras to booking guests to being an executive producer. He has worked in Washington, Atlanta and London, was a founding executive producer of “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” and produced other CNN shows, as well.

CNN’s Hadas Gold reported that CNN boss Mark Thompson told staff in a memo that Feist was a “CNN institution” and “one of the best connected journalists in Washington.”

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr points out, “In addition to leading Washington coverage, Feist has played an outsize role in overseeing the network’s political event programming, including debates and convention coverage.”

Barr added, “Feist’s departure, so close to the November presidential election, could present a leadership challenge for CNN. In his memo, Thompson told CNN employees that they will receive more guidance about who will fill in for Feist closer to his departure.”

Jump ball

The hottest sports media news at the moment is about which networks are going to land the NBA television rights. The NBA’s current deals with Disney (ESPN) and Warner Bros. Discovery (TNT) are set to expire after next season.

Reports are that ESPN already has worked out a new deal with the NBA, agreeing to pay the league $2.6 billion per season for regular-season and playoff games, including the NBA Finals. Amazon Prime Video has reportedly worked out a deal in the $1.8 billion-per-year range for the so-called “C” package.

Assuming all that is true, what’s left is who will win the bidding showdown between Warner Bros Discovery and NBC.

Well, according to The Ringer founder and podcaster Bill Simmons, who is certainly plugged into the NBA, it has already been decided. Simmons said on his podcast this week, “One of the funniest things ever is that we’re all pretending that the TV deal wasn’t done like a week and a half ago. I think it’s done. I think Warner already lost it. And I don’t know why we’re waiting until after the playoffs, maybe that’s how they have to do it. But it’s a wrap. NBC’s getting it. I’m just telling you.”

In his newsletter for Puck, sports media insider John Ourand wrote, “Simmons is about as connected as anyone, particularly when it comes to pro basketball, his first love. And the vibe coming out of the NBA is that the league prefers NBC’s bid, which includes two primetime windows per week and the type of promotion that has turned Sunday Night Football into the most watched primetime show in the land. There’s also a real question about whether WBD, which has matching rights, can actually match NBC’s bid. After all, the NBC bid offers a broadcast television component that WBD can’t meet.”

There’s a reason NBC is going so hard after the NBA. It’s valuable programming. NBC lost the rights in 2002 after having them throughout the 1990s. And it clearly is a priority again. Surprisingly, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said, “We don’t have to have the NBA,” at a recent conference. It seems as if losing the NBA — which certainly provides decent viewership on weekday winter nights — would be awful for TNT.

But Puck’s William D. Cohan wrote this week, “I have no idea whether WBD will be able to make a deal with the NBA or not. But if (NBC gets) the NBA rights, it will be because they paid up big time for them. And if Zaz loses the NBA, I suspect he will find a profitable alternative use for that $25 billion-plus that he would have spent over the next decade on NBA content. Perhaps he’ll go after UFC rights, or deploy the cash elsewhere. While it’s obvious that the NBA would shore up TNT’s and WBD’s cable leverage with distributors in the near term, who knows what the future value of those advertising packages will be after all the biggest players build out their (advertising-based video on demand) tiers.”

As Ourand mentioned, Warner Bros. Discovery has matching rights, but there’s a wrinkle there, too. Zaslav indicated they could match Amazon’s bid, but Ourand wrote, “I’m not sure what Zaz’s lawyers are telling him, but my industry sources with knowledge of these matching rights say that they do not apply to Amazon’s bid. Regardless, a bunch of well-paid lawyers will have to hash this all out over the next several weeks.”

Let’s get to the real important stuff for NBA fans. If Warner Bros. Discovery loses the rights, what happens to the “Inside the NBA” studio show? The show, which features Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, is the best sports studio show of all time.

Speaking of sports shows …

Jason Kelce, walking off the field after his final regular-season NFL game in January. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

It’s official. Just-retired NFL star Jason Kelce is joining ESPN. There had been previous reporting from The Athletic’s Andrew Marchand that the former Philadelphia Eagles center was headed to ESPN. Every network that carries the NFL hoped to land the highly popular Kelce.

Kelce will appear on “Monday Night Countdown,” the two-hour pregame show to “Monday Night Football.”

Kelce said in a statement, “Turns out, it was a short retirement! … ESPN was a consistent presence in our household growing up and the network helped shape who I am and my love of all sports. To now appear on that same screen is a full circle moment. And, I mean it’s freaking ‘Monday Night Football’ and I’m ready for some football.”

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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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