With Colin Quinn special, will the joke be on CNN? Plus: Gatehouse layoffs and Assange charges

Your Friday news roundup

May 24, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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May 24, 2019

Good morning and happy Friday everyone — and happy Memorial Day weekend. We’ll be taking a newsletter break Monday for the holiday, but we’ll be back Tuesday. As we wrap up the week, we start with a bizarre decision by CNN.

Comedy News Network?

CNN is planning a Memorial Day version of comedian Colin Quinn’s off-Broadway show.

Colin Quinn in 2017. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

This seems risky: On Monday night, CNN will air an hour-long show featuring comedian Colin Quinn, who will do a version of his off-Broadway show “Red State Blue State.”

You read that right: a comedy special on CNN.

Jon Adler, senior director of development for CNN Original Series, told Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “This is our first comedy special. We are really eager to see how the audience responds to this format, at which point we will decide about the future. I definitely think it’s different.”

Maybe a little too different. Should a cable news network be in the comedy business, especially when the comedy is politically-based? And especially in these divisive times?

It’s true that politics are ripe fodder for comedy. Think “Saturday Night Live” and all the monologues on late-night talk shows. But should CNN go down that road even if Quinn is, as Adler describes, “an equal opportunity offender?”

As it is, CNN has a reputation problem with much of the country, which believes the network is more sympathetic to liberals. It feels as if mixing biting commentary, even if the Democrats are on the receiving end of some of the bites, does nothing but bolster that reputation.

You would like to think that viewers would be smart enough to know that listening to Quinn isn’t the same as listening to Anderson Cooper. But we’ve become so angry as a country that even harmless jokes from non-journalists such as Bill Maher, John Oliver, Trevor Noah and (once upon a time) Jon Stewart, are taken seriously. After all, President Donald Trump gets angry when Alec Baldwin does an over-the-top impression of him on “Saturday Night Live.”

Quinn’s TV special might be really good. It might be really funny and smart. It might be totally worth watching. And, if so, that makes it totally worth it for a TV network to air that special. I just don’t think CNN should be that network.

Downsizing and denials

GateHouse lays off employees across the country; meanwhile, stockholders reject its CEO’s $1.7 million compensation package.

Another lousy day for journalism on Thursday. GateHouse Media, one of the largest publishers in the United States with 156 daily newspapers and 328 weeklies, slashed jobs across the country. The official number is unknown, but it appears to be at least several dozen.

Mike Reed, CEO of GateHouse’s parent company, New Media Investment Group, told Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds, “We are doing a small restructuring — at least that’s what I would call it — that I’m sure will be misreported. We have 11,000 employees. This involves a couple of hundred.”

Reed suggested that the “couple of hundred” number would include editors and other non-reporters being offered reporting jobs and that the ultimate downsize number was “more like 10.”

But it was clear through those who reached out to Poynter and commented on social media that the number of those laid off was significantly more than that.

Meanwhile, the Boston Business Journal reported that in a rare move, stockholders of GateHouse’s parent company, New Media Investment Group, “rejected a proposed compensation plan that includes $1.7 million for GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis.”

Poynter’s Edmonds just wrote about the issue of media company CEO pay.

Assange indictments cause outrage

He’s accused of violating the Espionage Act in a case that’s being condemned by journalism advocates.

A supporter of Julian Assange, with a poster of the WikiLeaks founder, joins other protesters in London this month. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange was indicted Thursday on 17 new counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. Some would argue that Assange is not a journalist, but this case could ultimately have ramifications for journalists who publish classified material. This isn’t that far from when newspapers published the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War.

In a statement Thursday, Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said:

“Any government use of the Espionage Act to criminalize the receipt and publication of classified information poses a dire threat to journalists seeking to publish such information in the public interest, irrespective of the Justice Department’s assertion that Assange is not a journalist.”

And the winner is …

This year’s Michael Kelly Award went to a team of journalists covering the civil war in Yemen.

Associated Press reporter Maggie Michael, photographer Nariman Ayman El-Mofty and video journalist Maad al-Zikry were awarded Atlantic Media’s 16th Annual Michael Kelly Award on Thursday night for their reporting on the civil war in Yemen. They received a prize of $25,000 at a ceremony in Washington.

The award is named for the late editor of The Atlantic and National Journal who was the first journalist killed while covering the war in Iraq in 2003.

Hot type

A curated list of great journalism and intriguing media.

Lisa Noland, who survived an attack at the hands of serial killer Bobby Joe Long, speaks to reporters after his execution May 23, 2019, in Starke, Florida. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

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

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