October 21, 2019

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Good Monday morning. Another round of layoffs have hit a major newspaper chain. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, must-watch Sunday night TV.

There’s so much to love from ‘Axios on HBO’

“Axios on HBO” returned Sunday for the first of four more episodes this season. And I can only ask again: Why can’t this show be on every week? It’s that good. (Good news — it’s been renewed for 2020 and 2021 with 12 episodes each season.)

Sunday’s return was crammed with good stuff, including revealing interviews with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Mitt Romney. Both talked extensively about President Donald Trump.

Graham told Axios’ Jonathan Swan that it would take clear-cut evidence that there was a crime or quid pro quo for him to change his mind about impeachment. The interview points out that Graham has gone from being a fierce Trump critic before the 2016 election to one of Trump’s biggest political allies, and yes, even he recognizes that.

“I’ve come to believe that my job is to put America ahead of me,” Graham said. “People in South Carolina like Trump. They want me to work with him. I represent them. I owe it to them to try. I owe it to him to try.”

But has Graham truly changed his feelings about Trump and Trump’s character?

“I’ve got to know him,” Graham said. “And I find him to be a handful. … But at the end of the day, he can be very charming and be very gracious. And I’m judging him by his conduct.”

In the meantime, in an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen, Romney said, “I think the places where I would be most critical of the president would be in matters that were divisive, that appeared to be appealing to racism or misogyny. Those are the kinds of things that have been the most harmful long-term to the foundation of America’s virtuous character.”

Speaking of Romney, be sure to check out McKay Coppins’ outstanding profile of Romney in The Atlantic. By the way, Slate’s Ashley Feinberg discovered Romney’s secret Twitter account.

Sunday’s “Axios on HBO” show also had features on Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 wealth tax plan as well as the future of esports.

‘The Weekly’ enrages us for the right reasons

Another superb show that should be part of your must-watch Sunday night list is The New York Times’ “The Weekly.” Sunday’s show was an especially sobering and infuriating look at school segregation in New York City. It’s likely that similar problems exist in most cities.

Quoting from the show: “School segregation was supposed to be a problem from the past, supposed to have ended in the 1950s. Instead, today black children are more segregated in this country than they have been in a half a century.”

What’s particularly troublesome is that while everyone agrees segregation exists and is a problem, nothing is being done to fix it, as this episode points out. The latest of “The Weekly” can be streamed starting today on Hulu.

McClatchy plans to lay off 1% of staff

In an email to staff last week, McClatchy President and CEO Craig Forman announced that 1 percent — or about 30 employees — of McClatchy’s nationwide staff are being laid off. It appears most of the cuts will be among copy editors.

In the memo, Forman wrote, “I want to emphasize that no reporting positions will be impacted due to these changes. While we move to more shared editing in our regions and along topic areas, every newsroom no matter the size will continue to be led by a strong assignment editor.”

Still, cutting copy editors can be a gut-punch to most news organizations, and this is another round of somber news for McClatchy, which has offered buyouts and had layoffs over the past year.

In a separate memo to staff, McClatchy’s vice-president of news, Kristin Roberts, laid out initiatives for moving forward: expanding shared editing, refocusing audience teams and centralizing print planning.

Roberts wrote, “These changes mean we will be saying goodbye to some valued colleagues. We have spoken with everyone who will be leaving us.”

You can read Forman’s memo here and Roberts’ memo here.

Wallace puts on a pushback clinic

“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. (Joe Raedle/Pool via AP)

The most interesting exchange from the Sunday morning shows was between “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who denied ever saying there was a quid pro quo between the United States and Ukraine even though that’s what he appeared to say at a news conference last week.

He told Wallace, “That’s what people said I said.”

But Wallace said, “I believe that anyone listening to what you said in that briefing could come to only one conclusion. … No, you totally said that.”

Strong work by Wallace to push back against Mulvaney, including playing a clip of Mulvaney’s original comments.

What happens when a real pro leaves Fox News? Nothing.

As I mentioned last week, while Shepard Smith leaving Fox News might seem bad for the network (after all, he’s a real professional), diehard Fox News viewers likely aren’t going to miss him. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple spoke with some Fox News viewers last week who were glad Smith resigned. One told him, “I’m glad he’s gone. … He didn’t like (President) Trump.”

Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Wemple said, “I feel these folks could have really benefited from Shep Smith’s journalism, but they were the first ones to turn him off.”

But will it matter?

Wemple said, “Every time one of these cataclysms happen at Fox — some big bad news — we think, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen next?’ What happens next is they win the ratings.”

This is what elite journalism looks like

In this 2007 photo, members of the Church of Scientology walk past the Flag Building, owned by the church, in Clearwater, Florida. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

In 1975, the Church of Scientology bought a hotel in Clearwater, Florida, and came up with plans to expand in that city. What happened? Scientology now owns 185 properties covering 101 acres in the center of downtown Clearwater.

In a superb piece of journalism, the Tampa Bay Times, led by reporter Tracey McManus, reviewed more than 1,000 deeds and business records to reconstruct the transactions. In the past three years alone, the church and companies run by its members have spent $103 million to buy up chunks of downtown Clearwater. Even city officials were unaware of how much property the church now owns.

The piece — “Clear Takeover” — is journalism at an elite level and the latest project about Scientology from the Times, which has been reporting on the church for years. The maps and graphics stunningly capture Scientology’s takeover of Clearwater.

In the story, McManus writes, “Many of the properties weren’t on the market. And half the sales were for more than double what the properties were valued by the county appraiser, the Times found. In six cases, buyers paid quadruple the property value. Most of the new owners have done little with their acquisitions. Block after block, vacant lots sit untouched, and storefronts remain empty …”

What remains unclear is what Scientology wants to do with all the properties.

The Zuckerberg media tour continues

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg continues making the media rounds. NBC News’ Lester Holt sat down with Zuckerberg for a wide-ranging interview that will appear today on the “Today” show, as well as “NBC Nightly News.” Holt talked to Zuckerberg from Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, about how the company is preparing for the 2020 presidential election and what it learned from the 2016 election.

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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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  • While you sit here huffing your own farts on how absolutely better than great wonderful the Scientology story is, you might want to mention you’re promoting a story by a company you own.