October 25, 2019

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Another bad day for journalism on Thursday as one of the nation’s top newspapers went through a round of layoffs. Check for the latest on that down below. But first, interesting comments from CNN president Jeff Zucker. Have a great weekend, everyone.

CNN pres doesn’t hold back on Fox News

Shepard Smith’s next stop might be CNN. During an interview on stage in New York at the network’s Citizen conference, CNN president Jeff Zucker told CNN’s Brian Stelter that he would be interested in bringing over Smith, who abruptly resigned earlier this month from Fox News.

“I think Shep’s a great journalist,” Zucker said. “When he’s available, he is somebody who is very talented and I would be very open to talking to him.”

For now, Smith cannot work anywhere on TV because of the non-compete clause in his contract.

Fox News came up quite a bit during the conversation with Zucker going on the attack. He told Stelter that Fox News is “not a journalistic organization” and said it’s “akin to state-run TV.” Zucker also fired back at Stelter’s assertion that Fox News does have some good journalists.

“You repeat that line a lot and it’s one of the mistakes I think you make in your journalism,” Zucker told Stelter.

Zucker also pushed back on the idea that there’s a difference between Fox News’ opinion division and its news division.

“There is no difference,” Zucker said. “I don’t see it that way. I think you’re wrong. … It’s completely erroneous.”

It should be pointed out that Zucker ripped into Fox News as having no good journalists in the same interview where he admits that he would be interested in hiring a journalist who was working at Fox News just a few weeks ago.

Fox News had no comment, but the feeling there is this is just more of the same criticism that Fox News routinely gets from Zucker. Fox News foreign correspondent Trey Yingst fired off a series of tweets highlighting Fox News’ journalism. He started by writing:

“If you don’t think Fox News is a ‘journalistic organization,’ I’d encourage you to take a look at the work my colleagues have done over the past year. Holding those in power accountable, risking their lives to get the story and reporting the facts.”

One other piece of information that should come as no surprise: Zucker responded to President Donald Trump’s assertion that Zucker would soon resign from CNN.

“I do have an announcement to make today: I’m not resigning,” Zucker said. “I have no intention of resigning. I think there was probably too much executive time that day. He clearly has been agitated by CNN and there was probably something done that day and he was trying to take a shot a CNN and he uses me as a proxy for that.”

Zucker did admit that he might someday look at running for political office, but “I have no plans to do so at this time.”

Layoffs hit Tampa Bay Times newsroom

In case you missed my story Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times laid off seven journalists — five full-timers and two part-timers. In addition, the paper announced that it was combining the A (national) and B (metro) sections for the Monday through Saturday print editions. Award-winning sports columnist Martin Fennelly was among the layoffs.

Full disclosure: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times and I was a sportswriter there for most of the past 25 years before moving over to Poynter in January.

Facebook News debuts

(AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Facebook introduced Facebook News this morning. In a statement, Campbell Brown, vice president of global news partnerships, and Mona Sarantakos, product manager for news, called it “a dedicated place for news on Facebook, to a subset of people in the US. News gives people more control over the stories they see, and the ability to explore a wider range of their news interests, directly within the Facebook app. It also highlights the most relevant national stories of the day. News articles will continue to appear in News Feed as they do today.”

The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg reported that Facebook news “will offer stories from hundreds of news organizations, some of which will be paid fees for supplying content to the service.”

Facebook says what will make Facebook News valuable includes:

  • Daily stories as chosen by a team of journalists.
  • Personalization based on news that viewers read, share and follow.
  • Topic sections for deeper dives on things such as business, entertainment, health, science and tech, and sports.
  • Subscriptions for those who have linked paid news subscriptions to their Facebook accounts.
  • Controls, which allows you to hide articles, topics and publishers you don’t want to see.

All of this is Facebook’s way to get back into the news game after revamping its news feed to promote “meaningful posts” (those mostly shared by family and friends rather than news organizations) in early 2018. That was in the wake of fake news and other questionable content that damaged Facebook’s reputation around the 2016 presidential election. Facebook hopes once again that turning to reliable news organizations will help it compete with rivals such as Google and Apple.

‘The tempo … is a challenge for every journalist’

Kelly O’Donnell interviews Chris Christie. (NBCUniversal)

NBC News’ political reporter Kelly O’Donnell became the first woman to receive the Radio Television Correspondents Association Career Achievement Award. She was honored Thursday night for her work over the past 25 years, including covering Capitol Hill.

I asked O’Donnell in an email what has changed over the years that she has covered politics in Washington, D.C.

“A disappearing middle in both parties has made the big or bold compromise of years past hard to find,” she told me. “Today, too often, it is the recriminations that are big and bold. Voters are not choosing compromise as a value they want in the lawmakers they send to Washington so we see more of the all-or-nothing approach. That diminishes the focus on covering outcomes or accomplishments and places more attention on the daily battles driving differing political realities. I have covered five speakers of the House (Nancy Pelosi twice) and each brought a different leadership style and different circumstances that also shaped the way Congress works and how it is viewed by the public.”

And covering today’s Washington is more challenging than ever.

“This moment in political coverage is so guided by competing powers at the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue,” O’Donnell said. “Congress is asserting oversight and investigative authorities and the executive branch is regularly refusing to cooperate. The tempo of news making and news breaking events is a challenge for every journalist to keep perspective and keep cool when there is much tension and fire in the political atmosphere.  Taking a deep breath and recognizing that these are events that will stand out over time should help us navigate complicated waters.”

In her speech Thursday night, O’Donnell praised Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. John McCain. About Kennedy, she said, “I learned from others he was often the first to call when a colleague suffered a loss. One Republican senator told me that when his mother died, it was Kennedy who called to console him right away even before members of his own family had reached him.”

She also asked the RTCA if they could call her award the “mid-career achievement award” … “Because I’d like to think I’m just getting started.”

With O’Donnell, Biden is right at home

CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell interviews Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden for “60 Minutes.” (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell interviewed Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden at his home in Delaware this week for a segment that will air Sunday evening on “60 Minutes.” The two will talk about Biden’s campaign, President Trump, the impeachment inquiry and Facebook. Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, also will join the interview.

In one excerpt, O’Donnell asked if Trump’s children have acted properly and avoided conflicts of interest.

Biden said, “Look, I wasn’t raised to go after the children. Their actions speak for themselves. I can just tell you this: that, if I’m elected president, my children are not going to have offices in the White House. My children are not going to sit in on Cabinet meetings.”

Astros fire assistant GM after SI story

The Houston Astros fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on Thursday. The firing is a result of a report in Sports Illustrated by sportswriter Stephanie Apstein accused Taubman of mocking three female reporters over the Astros having a pitcher once suspended for 75 games under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.

Initially, the Astros said the story was “misleading and completely irresponsible” and accused Sports Illustrated of fabricating it. After other reporters, including two from the Houston Chronicle, confirmed the Sports Illustrated story, Taubman apologized for his language and behavior, but not to the reporters.

In a statement Thursday, the Astros said, “Our initial investigation led us to believe that Brandon Taubman’s inappropriate comments were not directed toward any reporter. We were wrong. We sincerely apologize to Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated and to all individuals who witnessed this incident or were offended by the inappropriate conduct. The Astros in no way intended to minimize the issues related to domestic violence.”

While the Astros addressed Taubman’s comments by firing him, it has not necessarily answered who was responsible for the statement attacking the Sports Illustrated report. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters on Thursday, “That original reaction by the Astros was wrong, and we own it as an organization. There were many people involved in reviewing that and approving that, and I’m not going to get into the details of that. It was wrong; it was the Astros’ decision. And that’s where I’m going to leave that.”

When pressed further, Luhnow said, “It was wrong, it was incorrect. It should never have been sent out. We’ve learned a lesson about it.”

That’s one way to save tax dollars

The Wall Street Journal had the scoop Thursday that Trump is planning on telling federal agencies to not renew their subscriptions to The New York Times and Washington Post. In an email to the WSJ, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “Not renewing subscriptions across all federal agencies will be a significant cost saving — hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be saved.”

While it’s true that money will be saved, the real reason behind the cancelations likely has more to do with Trump’s dislike of the Times and Post.

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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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