April 26, 2017

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It’s a crowdsourced and premature obituary.

Richard Deitsch, a sports media columnist for Sports Illustrated, took to Facebook Tuesday with a declaration and a request for information that underscores troubles in Bristol, Connecticut, the home of ESPN.

“You are going to be reading a lot about ESPN’s layoffs over the next couple of weeks. It’s a major business story inside and outside the sports media, and there will be significant on-air names affected at ESPN. I’ve heard from people I trust that employees in Bristol will be informed as early as tomorrow. The numbers will be larger than previously reported. It is not a fun story to report.”

This harkens to the help sought by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Fahrenthold in reporting on then-candidate Donald Trump’s dubious nonprofit foundation for The Washington Post.

No surprise, “I definitely have seen an interest in other people using social media like I did,” Fahrenthold said. He cited a just-released Huffington Post exposé, overseen by reporter Christina Wilkie, that used crowdsourcing to show how a final Federal Election Commission report by Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee was rife with errors.

As journalist-entrepreneur-educator Merrill Brown puts it, “ESPN is among the most powerful media brands in the world and has a leadership position in both television and digital media. There is no other entity with that power. But the revenue models of the past 10 years both in terms of traditional digital advertising and traditional cable revenues are starting to collapse. Combine that with rising sports rights fees and you have for ESPN a perfect storm of business challenges.”

ESPN has been the king of cable, charging distributors (cable and satellite companies) “an industry-leading $7.21 a month for each of its 90 million or so pay-TV subscribers,” or four times No. 2, TNT, gets at $1.82. (Bloomberg) But pioneer status, trend-setting star anchors like Keith Olbermann, and Americans’ love of sports (especially live events for which it paid through the nose for rights) did not guarantee financial riches forever.

The crown Jewel of Disney may generate around $9 billion in revenue this year but has lost millions of subscribers in recent years, in some months around 600,000. The reasons include a combo of what have become known as “cord nevers,” “cord cutters” and “skinny bundle takers,” or those opting for narrower programming selections.

Its hope remains that the many new (and some old) market entrants who are assembling skinny bundles, or packages of streaming channels, will end up picking up a fair number of the subscribers who have left.

Some see that as unlikely, especially given the many who don’t want to pay for sports they don’t watch. Others, such as Brown, feel it will remain a huge enterprise “well prepared as new sponsorship products and subscription revenue packages emerge,” citing its ESPN Watch app as an evolving vehicle to grab younger consumers.

After a recent Disney report to financial analysts, respected analyst Todd Juenger of Sanford C. Bernstein wrote, “Management mentioned the word ‘disruption’ over and over again. We agree, and we also agree Disney has more tools and options than probably any other media company to weather the disruption.”

“But it will be very choppy even in success, and we still cannot envision an outcome where 10’s of mm’s of hh’s who don’t care about sports continue to pay for ESPN.”

That’s “mm’s,” meaning millions, and “hh’s,” meaning households. That means bad news.

Malcolm Moran, who is Director of the Sports Capital Journalism program at the Indiana University-Purdue University campus of IU in Indianapolis,  says, “The frightening thing about the adjustments to the business model at ESPN is that so many stakeholders are affected.”

“First there are the staffers, including promising young producers who went toward the broadcast side because they feared the changes in the newspaper industry. I taught some of them and know how talented and committed they are. But there are also college programs, particularly those in smaller leagues, that depend on the revenue and the exposure ESPN has provided over the years. The cutbacks could become the pebble in the pond that can send ripples in every direction.”

And it’s all why Sports Illustrated’s Deitsch is serving as a media mortician as he prepares for a body count.

Come to think of it, given the troubles of Sports Illustrated’s parent, Time Inc., it’s not far-fetched to envision somebody returning the crowdsourcing favor not too far down the road.

Headline of the day

“A HuffPost column calling for disenfranchisement of White men is declared hate speech in South Africa.” (The Washington Post)

Arnold Zenker, CBS News anchor

As the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” warmly recalled, an AFTRA strike 50 years ago brought us “The CBS Evening News with Arnold Zenker” substituting for Walter Cronkite (“in color,” the announcer also told us back then).

Zenker was a 28-year-old CBS executive who’d never done television. He did the morning news, then the mid-day news and, with that brief experience, then filled in for Cronkite at night. Nobody had ever heard of the guy, who actually got good reviews (I recall watching), and became a Boston host and later a consultant after the 13-day strike.

Upon his return, Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America,” Pelley noted, “looked into the camera with a twinkle in his eye and said, ‘This is Walter Cronkite, substituting for Arnold Zenker. It’s good to be back.'”

“And that,” said Pelley last evening, “in color, is the CBS Evening News for tonight.”

Robert Kraft and gambling

Bart Hubbuch, who’s suing the Murdoch-owned New York Post for allegedly firing him as a result of an anti-Trump tweet, is now found in Deadspin with “This is the story about Robert Kraft’s casino holdings that Rupert Murdoch’s paper never ran.”

It argues that Kraft investments violate NFL rules in “the perfect nexus of NFL soft power: television billions, one-percenter alliances, and a press corps too deferential to risk upsetting either.”

Back in Kraft’s pro-Patriots media backyard, Boston’s WEEI-FM demurs: “It’s the equivalent of crack cocaine to Deadspin’s left-leaning and Patriots-hating audience. Except, the content of the article doesn’t live up to the grandiose headline. It might be one of the most boring hit pieces ever written.”

Amazon world domination (cont.)

“Six months ago, Amazon launched Music Unlimited, its on-demand music service, designed to compete against the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. Six months later, the company hasn’t shared any subscriber numbers, but it is very bullish about its prospects, encouraged by the success of its Echo smart speakers, which are deeply integrated with its music offerings and in millions of homes across the country.” (The Verge)

Facebook and fake news

It announced “it’s trying a new way to show Related Articles, which have traditionally only appeared after a user has read a story from a particular website. The feature — which originally appeared in 2013 — is Facebook’s latest attempt at addressing the widespread complaints about its role in allowing fake news and filter bubbles to thrive.” (Adweek)

World Press Freedom Index

Reporters Without Borders will announce its annual index Wednesday with press conferences in Washington, Paris, London, Tunis and Rio de Janeiro.

The Washington Post will host in the capital, with reporter Dana Priest moderating a discussion that will be livestreamed on the paper’s website starting at 9 a.m. Eastern.

Same old

“Gannett earnings forecast a bleak 2017 for newspaper companies.” (Poynter)

Jim Cramer on an expensive stock market

The brainy and entertaining CNBC host hailed results of Caterpillar, DuPont and McDonald’s. “In an expensive market, maybe it’s a lot cheaper than you think,” he said, heralding the “astounding individual results” they’re reporting.

Cheddar’s new show

Though you could imagine Cramer on Cheddar, the new financial news service is really for a way younger crowd than his at CNBC. And Wednesday brings it’s first branded show,”Your Cheddar,” at 9 a.m. Eastern.

Its means to be a show on savings, spending and career counsel sponsored by Ally, a digital financial services firm. Cheddar is very sharp and you can see its new offering here.

Chobani vs. InfoWars

“Yogurt maker Chobani is suing InfoWars and its publisher and director Alex Jones for defamation in an Idaho court, claiming that they have spread false statements about the company that led to a boycott movement.” (Law Newz)

“It all centers on a video segment that InfoWars produced about how Chobani supposedly hires refugees. The video was promoted with the headline, ‘Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists,’ yet the complaint alleges that this headline was neither true nor supported by the video.”

The morning babble

“Fox & Friends'” regular breakfasts with Trump voters brought it to Pete’s Restaurant in Canton, Ohio, where his supporters remain strong, while heralding Trump’s tax proposal to be revealed today. And it chided the “liberal judge” who temporarily stopped Trump’s Sanctuary Cities funding halt.

CNN’s “New Day” beckoned legal analyst Jeff Toobin, who finds the administration’s legal position on that issue in conflict with some declarations. But he found “absurd” the notion you can’t criticize a federal judge, even as CNN ran a graphic on Trump’s “War on judges.” He would only concede that calling Judge Gonzalo Curiel a “Mexican” was out of bounds.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” was Michael Flynn-centric, wondering why the White House keeps lying about contacts with Russians. And it facetiously defended “Fox & Friends” from a Trump tweet that “pundits in the morning don’t know what they’re talking about,” assuming Trump no longer watches MSNBC’s or CNN’s early offerings.

The young visionaries

Here’s a good one: Wired profiles 20 young people “creating the future,” including a young bioengineer who’s introduced “a 20-cent centri­fuge inspired by an ancient spinning toy, which can be used to diagnose diseases like malaria.” (Wired) Take a look.

Fox News litigation (Cont.)

“Fox News anchor Kelly Wright is the latest on-air personality to be suing the network. Wright joined a racial discrimination case filed last month in Bronx Supreme Court against Fox News, its parent company 21st Century Fox, general counsel Dianne Brandi, and former comptroller Judith Slater. That suit now has 11 plaintiffs. (New York)

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

Correction: Malcolm Moran is a faculty member at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, not Indiana University at Bloomington.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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