Chuck Todd celebrates five years on ‘Meet the Press,’ plus CNN’s climate special and The Atlantic makes us pay

Your Friday Poynter Report

September 6, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Friday morning. I promise you a SharpieGate-free newsletter. Well, except for one brief Twitter exchange about it. It just seems like we have more things to concentrate on regarding Hurricane Dorian than whether or not President Donald Trump drew a few lines through a map. Instead of wringing our hands about the state that Hurricane Dorian didn’t hit, let’s focus on all the places it did hit. OK, on with the rest of the newsletter, starting with an anniversary at NBC.

Taking the fifth

Chuck Todd has what he calls the job of a lifetime. And he is doing that job well. The proof is in the numbers.

This Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Todd moderating NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and much has changed over those five years. Despite a legendary tradition that dates all the way back to 1947 that featured iconic hosts such as the late Tim Russert, “Meet the Press” was on less than stable ground when Todd and executive producer John Reiss took over on Sept. 7, 2014. The show was third among the Sunday morning political shows in total viewers and in the key demos.

Now it’s the most-watched Sunday morning show with Todd in the driver’s seat. He navigates what can be difficult interviews with political heavyweights who are constantly spinning and pivoting, while also deftly leading a smart panel discussion of journalists.

It can’t be easy, but Todd makes it look that way. So I asked him how it all works. When the lights go on Sunday morning, what has to happen over the next hour to make a good show?

“The best shows are when the interview isn’t a debate but instead a conversation that surfaces a new or better understanding,” Todd told me in an email. “Those interviews only work when the interviewee accepts the premise of what’s being asked. That requires everyone to be on the same page on the premise of a question, which means no ‘alternative fact’ arguments. Then, the viewer is served well, and those are the shows that make me feel the most fulfilled. It comes down to a larger mission of helping folks better understand why some things are, why some things should be, and why some things shouldn’t be.”

Not only has “Meet the Press” grown its audience during Todd’s time as anchor, but it has grown its brand. The show is no longer just for Sunday mornings. “MTP Daily” is on each weekday on MSNBC. In addition, there’s a morning newsletter — MTP First Read — as well as a weekly podcast called “The Chuck ToddCast.”

Todd is just 47 years old, the show is in excellent health and, as I mentioned, this is just his fifth anniversary. He calls it the job of a lifetime, and he can probably do it as long as he wants.

“I’ve always thought of myself as the custodian of the ‘Meet the Press’ anchor chair, and someday it will belong to someone else,” Todd said. “But as long as I can find a newness to the job, as long as I feel I can make politics more accessible to the audience, I’ll be happy to stay here. Far down the road, I might want to work on documentaries or docudramas or perhaps I’ll simply open up a sports memorabilia store and lose money because I won’t be able to part with half the stuff I acquire.”

CNN’s climate special got hot, but flamed out


Former Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

CNN’s seven-hour town hall Wednesday night on climate is getting plenty of praise in media circles. What happens next?

New York University journalism professor and media observer Jay Rosen tweeted a valid point:

“Long experience suggests to me this caution. When you don’t want to change your journalism to incorporate a new priority, but there is pressure to recognize that priority, you do an event, a special, a project that comes and goes. When you are serious, you alter your routines.”

Speaking of the CNN town hall, Gizmodo’s Brian Kahn has the story behind the most contentious moment of the night.

As I mentioned, the town hall was well received by critics, but was not a ratings hit. CNN averaged 1,091,000 total viewers from 5 p.m. to midnight. That was well behind Fox News (2.4 million) and MSNBC (1.6 million). So when we’re talking about what happens next, unfortunately, viewership ratings are a factor as much as story importance when networks are scheduling programming.

A must-read on The Big Show


Former ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Keith Olbermann, shown here in 2012. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

ESPN turns 40 this week and of all the things the network has done, the best might have been from 1992 to1997 when Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick hosted “SportsCenter,” otherwise known by fans as The Big Show.

In a fantastic walk down memory lane, The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis revisits the golden era of “SportsCenter.” Curtis writes, “In Patrick and Olbermann’s hands, ‘SportsCenter’ was the best TV sportscast and, at the same time, exhilaratingly, the best parody of a TV sportscast. As Scott Van Pelt put it recently, Patrick and Olbmerann mocked the thing they were doing and did the thing they were mocking, and were somehow the best at doing both.”

What’s hard to believe is that the Olbermann-Patrick “SportsCenter” lasted only 4 and 1/2 years. Many claim that ESPN was bothered that Olbermann and Patrick became bigger than the show they were doing. Eventually, a frustrated Olbermann left ESPN. So did Patrick, who now hosts a successful sports talk show.

Great work by Curtis, who delivers a must-read for any ESPN fan.

Paying for what you’re getting

Journalism isn’t free, and it shouldn’t be. When folks complain to me about news outlets asking readers to pay for content, I certainly sympathize. I’m a news consumer, too, and understand that readers must make choices because they only have so much money to spend. Yet, you can’t just go into a grocery store and start eating cereal off the shelves without paying for it. Why should journalism be any different?

Nevertheless, whenever a big news outlet goes to a paywall, it can be disappointing for readers and stressful for the news outlet. Such is the case with The Atlantic, which launched a digital subscription service on Friday.

Here’s how The Atlantic is doing it: Readers may now view five articles a month before being asked to choose between three different subscription plans: $49.99 a year for unlimited access to TheAtlantic.com; $59.99 a year for unlimited digital access plus 10 print issues delivered; or $100 for a premium subscription that includes ad-free web browsing and podcasts, discounts to Atlantic products and other perks.

In a letter to readers, editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that The Atlantic has never been better.

“The Atlantic turns 162 in November,” Goldberg wrote. “My dream is that the steps we take in this period — a difficult one for our industry, as you no doubt know — will guarantee that our magazine will celebrate its bicentennial as a flourishing and indispensable creator of the world’s best journalism.”

In a note to The Atlantic’s staff, president of Atlantic Media Michael Finnegan wrote, “The Atlantic has been fortunate to find audiences — and partners who want to reach those audiences — throughout our history. We now need to find many, many more readers who want to regularly engage with and ultimately pay for our journalism. That won’t be easy, but we have all of the raw ingredients and infrastructure to make it happen.”

Youngstown’s journalistic heart still beating

When The Vindicator newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio, announced it was closing after 150 years, there was concern that there would be no one to shine a light on that community.

ProPublica announced it was opening up a spot in its Local Reporting Network for someone to write about accountability issues in Youngstown. Then The Tribune Chronicle, an Ogden newspaper in nearby Warren, Ohio, acquired The Vindicator’s subscription list, masthead and Vindy.com domain and started producing a new Vindy.com earlier this week.

Now The Compass Experiment, a local news laboratory founded by McClatchy and Google, is launching something called Mahoning Matters. (Mahoning is the name of the county in Ohio where Youngstown is.) In a blog post, The Compass Experiment general manager Mandy Jenkins announced a three-person staff with ties to The Vindicator.

Mahoning Matters will be edited by Mark Sweetwood, who spent more than a decade as The Vindicator’s managing editor. The reporters will be Justin Dennis and Jess Hardin, both of whom are former Vindicator reporters.

All these journalism outlets still don’t totally replace the work done by The Vindicator, but at least there are some eyes on Youngstown.

Her name is Chanel Miller

In 2015, a woman was attacked while unconscious after drinking at a fraternity party at Stanford University. Her attacker was Brock Turner, a member of the Stanford swim team. A year later, Turner was convicted of three counts of sexual assault and given what most feel was in an inappropriately light six-month sentence. He served three months in a county jail.

During the sentencing hearing, the victim read a powerful impact statement. Then and up until this week, she was known as “Emily Doe.” She has a memoir coming out later this month called “Know My Name.” It’s Chanel Miller.

On Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” Miller will be interviewed by correspondent Bill Whitaker, and once again read her victim impact statement.

Hot type


The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill in July. ((Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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