October 31, 2019

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Good Thursday morning. Finally, a story about Washington, D.C., that doesn’t involve politics. Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning what was a very entertaining World Series on Wednesday night. OK, playtime is over. Back to politics. The House is expected to vote on an impeachment resolution today. Look for plenty of special TV coverage.

Today’s media news starts with a showdown between Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter throws down gauntlet on political ads

If you believe there is a rivalry between Twitter and Facebook — or at least between their CEOs Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg — then Twitter and Dorsey scored a major public relations victory against their social media counterpart Wednesday. On the same day Facebook was announcing its impressive quarterly earnings, Twitter (not so coincidently) announced it will no longer accept political advertising. In a series of tweets (of course), Dorsey said Twitter will announce more specifics Nov. 15 and the policy will go into effect Nov. 22.

This is a big deal, and you better believe it was a poke at Facebook. After all, the move comes as Facebook faces heavy criticism for saying it would not fact-check ads from political groups. Zuckerberg even testified before Congress last week, saying politicians have a right to free speech on Facebook — even if that free speech includes lies.

Zuckerberg responded to Twitter’s announcement in his earnings conference call by giving what the Associated Press described as “an impassioned monologue” about Facebook’s deep belief that political speech is important. Zuckerberg also denied that accepting political ads is financially motivated — he claims it makes up half of 1% of Facebook’s revenue.

As far as Twitter’s decision, Dorsey tweeted:

“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”

Axios’ Sara Fischer recently wrote that “Political ad experts expect well over $1 billion to be spent on digital ads alone this campaign cycle. So far, presidential campaigns have spent more than $60 million on Google and Facebook this year. About $1.2 million has been spent on political ads on Snapchat since last June.”

Dorsey tweeted:

“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.”

Score one for Twitter. Now let’s see what Facebook does, if anything.

Speaking of Facebook …

CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted Wednesday that Facebook appears to be defending the inclusion of Breitbart in its new Facebook News section. In a blog post, Campbell Brown, the head of global news partnerships at Facebook, didn’t mention Breitbart by name, but wrote:

“I … believe that in building out a destination for news on Facebook, we should include content from ideological publishers on both the left and the right — as long as that content meets our integrity standards for misinformation. All the content on Facebook News today meets those standards.”

She went on to add:

“There will invariably be news organizations, ideological or otherwise, who say or write things that I find abhorrent, but I will always stand by their right to express their views. It has been a long-held American ideal that we win the day with better arguments, not by silencing those we disagree with.”

Deadspin’s death throes


A little more than 14 years ago — on Sept. 9, 2005 — Deadspin changed sports media with a website that produced not only snarky, irreverent and intelligent analysis of sports news, but broke major stories. Along the way, the site occasionally touched on other topics such as pop culture and politics with the same nuanced and fearless commentary. It became one of the most popular sports websites on the internet. Time magazine once put it on its 50 coolest websites list.

Today, Deadspin might be dead.

On Monday, new Deadspin owner G/O Media directed staff to essentially stick to sports. On Tuesday, editor in chief Barry Petchesky was fired for refusing to go along with that directive. And on Wednesday, the site saw a mass exodus of writers who quit in protest. Among those who announced their resignations on Twitter included features editor Tom Ley and writers Laura WagnerPatrick RedfordAlbert BurenkoLauren TheisenKelsey McKinney and Chris Thompson.

In a statement, a G/O Media spokesperson said, “They resigned and we’re sorry that they couldn’t work within this incredibly broad coverage mandate. We’re excited about Deadspin’s future and we’ll have some important updates in the coming days.”

Perhaps G/O Media has a plan and perhaps they are excited, but it’s hard to imagine Deadspin has a future after the talent that just walked out the door. It all seems so unnecessary. There are those who will argue that management has the right to dictate editorial policy. Then again, it seems like the skilled writers and editors who have made the site so successful should have more independence from a management group that took over only a few months ago.

In a text message to the New York Times’ Marc Tracy, McKinney said, “I no longer believe that this company supports its writers.”

In an email to Tracy, Deadspin founding editor Will Leitch, who left the website in 2008, said about those who quit: “To watch the way they punched and screamed and clawed on the way out the door is truly inspiring, and as true to the spirit of Deadspin as anything I could have ever imagined. They refused to give in to the bad guys. During a time when so many people have made a profession of that very thing, I find it downright heroic.”

This is the dawning of the age of anonymous

Joe Klein enters a news conference at Random House Publishers in 1996, when he confessed to being the author of”Primary Colors.” (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In 1996, Joe Klein wrote an anonymous novel called “Primary Colors.” It was inspired by Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Klein said that his editor read the book and told him, “Joe, this is lots of fun. But you know books like this don’t sell.”

That one did. It sold a million copies and became a fun Mike Nichols movie starring John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates. Klein wrote that the anonymity of the book gave it “a mystical power” that Klein hadn’t imagined.

What makes this topic worthwhile now is the soon-to-be-released “A Warning,” which is anonymously written by someone who claims to be (or have been) a senior official in the Trump White House. It is supposedly the same official who wrote the critical anonymous op-ed about Trump in The New York Times last September.

Is anonymity in this new book appropriate? Klein said it might be if the author has the same personal safety and national security concerns as the whistleblower.

“Or,” Klein writes, “the smokescreen could have less noble provenance.”

He adds, “The initial purpose of the op-ed, to caution the president, and to warn the public, no longer applies. The publisher is touting ‘shocking’ accounts of malfeasance, which will surely sell some books. But at this point, can anyone be surprised by anything? Doesn’t even a miscreant like Trump have the right to know his accuser?”

No (expletive)

In my Wednesday newsletter, there were two items that included quotes that had swear words. In both cases, I did not print the actual profanity. Instead, I opted to replace the word with (expletive). One was MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, referring to critics of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman as “chicken(expletive).” The other was a tweet from Deadpsin’s Laura Wagner, who called the CEO of G/O Media a “real piece of (expletive).”

Several readers of The Poynter Report reached out to ask why those words — in particular, the Wallace quote — were censored. One reader said, “Are you really so squeamish that you can’t print (expletive) in an email about something that was said on the air, when you are writing for an audience that presumably can handle an unvarnished quotation?”

Here is my response to those inquiries. First, I’m not a prude. I spent 30 years as a sportswriter and have heard plenty of salty language in locker rooms from Tampa Bay to Toronto. I might even use it myself from time to time, especially on deadline.

But I do think we need to be as respectful as possible to those who might be turned off by such language. Maybe it doesn’t bother most people, but it might bother some and we are obligated to keep that in mind. If it’s possible to get the point across so that everyone understands what was said and you don’t have to spell out cuss words, then I think that’s what should be done.

NBC’s digital news division may unionize

Employees of NBC’s digital news division announced plans to form a union. The New York Times’ Noam Scheiber and John Koblin report that the union would represent about 150 workers and “allow them to fight for better job protections as well as publicly criticize NBC News executives without fear of retaliation.”

This news comes on the heels of controversy at NBC News involving allegations in Ronan Farrow’s book that NBC News sat on his report about sexual misconduct involving Harvey Weinstein, as well as how NBC dealt with sexual misconduct accusations against former “Today” show host Matt Lauer.

In a memo to staff, Chris Berend, the executive vice president of digital for NBC News, said the company is committed to a healthy workplace environment and would welcome conversations aimed at making NBC News Digital the best it can be.

Hot type

The Washington Nationals celebrate winning the World Series on Wednesday night in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • A black activist convinces a neo-Nazi that he can help with mounting legal troubles. That’s just the beginning of his cunning plan. A can’t-read-it-fast-enough piece from the Washington Post’s Katie Mettler.
  • Welcome to “Cancer Alley.” ProPublica’s Lylla Younes and Times-Picayune and The Advocate’s Tristan Baurick and Joan Meiners write about neighborhoods in jeopardy because of new industrial plants that will increase concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Too many news organizations made too big of a deal over the NCAA’s announcing that student-athletes can profit from their name, image and likeness. As Jemele Hill writes for The Atlantic, the details are vague and “who knows whether (Tuesday’s) vote is truly a turning point for the NCAA — or just an attempt to head off more far-reaching reforms?”
  • And, finally, we end where we started this newsletter. The Washington Nationals won the World Series, so here’s perspective from legendary Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell, one of the best baseball writers who has ever lived. He rises to the occasion with this truly poetic column — on deadline, no less.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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Correction: This story has been updated to correct the publication that ran an anonymous op-ed last September. The op-ed ran in The New York Times, not The Washington Post. We regret the error.

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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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