January 22, 2020

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Your guide to a healthy media diet

And we’re off and running.

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is underway and so is the exhaustive media coverage. The major networks are interrupting programming and putting their superstar anchors front and center on their broadcasts.

Cable networks are offering gavel-to-gavel coverage while bringing in a cast of thousands to analyze, explain and opine over what we are watching. National publications such as The New York Times and Washington Post are posting up-to-the-second updates. Newspapers, websites, TV, podcasts, newsletters, radio — all will flood us with news, analysis, opinions and predictions.

Too much or entirely appropriate?

You would think entirely appropriate considering what is at stake. After all, it’s only the fourth time in the history of the nation that a president faces impeachment.

But can there be such a thing as too much information?

Absolutely, particularly when not all of that information is accurate, or even intended to be accurate.

In a smart piece for Vox, Sam Illing writes, “We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth.”

Actually, there might be something worse than giving up on finding the truth. It’s a public so weary of slanted media that they don’t believe the truth even exists. In other words, the audiences think all news is biased.

Illing points to a New York Times piece by Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner that was written last November, but certainly applies to today. It said, “But just when information is needed most, to many Americans it feels most elusive. The rise of social media; the proliferation of information online, including news designed to deceive; and a flood of partisan news are leading to a general exhaustion with news itself. Add to that a president with a documented record of regularly making false statements and the result is a strange new normal: Many people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake and fact.”

And some people don’t care which is slanted, fake or fact. They turn to their favorite news source and accept that version as their truth. Unfortunately, too many viewers watch shows with pundits expressing opinions (think Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow) and confuse that with shows using reporters to relay facts.

So what are media outlets to do, especially the ones committed to honest reporting?

Here’s what: Keep doing your job. Keep fighting the fight. Keep reporting the truth.

Go heavy on facts and light on opinion. Rely on what’s happening today instead of what might happen tomorrow. Yes, explain what we are watching, but, no, don’t tell us how to feel about what we are watching. Don’t try to tell us who is “winning.”

Bring on experts who know impeachment and the law. Do not bring on commentators who are known to lie or spread conspiracy theories.

And what can the viewer do? Same thing. Look for facts, not opinion. Look for explanations, not predictions. Look for truth, not spin. Don’t search for scorecards.

It’s all easier said than done. The poor habits of what much of the media offers up and what the public takes in is a hard habit to break.

It’s like junk food. It tastes good, but it’s ultimately really bad for you. Here’s hoping the media serves up a healthy diet of impeachment coverage and the public sticks to that diet.

From Hillary’s lips to the big screen

Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

The must-read Q&A of the day is The Hollywood Reporter’s Lacey Rose interviewing Hillary Clinton. The interview is meant to preview the upcoming four-part documentary series “Hillary,” which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this week.

The big headline coming out of the documentary was Clinton’s comments about Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders.

“Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done,” Clinton said in the film. “He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”

When asked by Rose if that assessment still holds, Clinton said, “Yes, it does.”

So that was the big news, but seeing as how this is a media newsletter, what caught my attention was Clinton’s assessment of the media coverage surrounding this election. Clinton was asked if she sees improvement from 2016.

“I don’t,” Clinton said. “In the beginning I was hopeful that it had. I thought that with more than one woman running — at one point there were six, so a basketball team plus a spare — it’ll get more normal (because) you have women on the stage. It’s not just me standing alone up there. And in the very beginning there was reason for hope, but as the campaign has gone on, it does seem to me that people are reverting back to stereotypes, and many of those are highly genderized. And it’s a shame.”

Hitting home with Oprah

Oprah Winfrey, left, and author Jeanine Cummins, second from left, appearing on Tuesday’s “CBS This Morning.” (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Oprah Winfrey appeared on Tuesday’s “CBS This Morning” to announce her new book club selection. She chose Jeanine Cummins’ “American Dirt,” the story of a mother who loses much of her family in a brutal attack by a drug cartel and then escapes from Mexico to the United States with her 8-year-old son.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Winfrey said, “I have been a news reporter, watched the news, seen the stories every day, seen the children at the border and my heart is wrenched by that. And nothing has done more (than ‘American Dirt’) to make me feel the pain and desperation of what it means to be on the run. It’s changed the way I see the whole issue and I was already empathetic.”

Seeking success in Salt Lake

In November, The Salt Lake Tribune became the nation’s first legacy newspaper to gain full non-profit status. What does that mean, exactly? In a nutshell, the Tribune can seek donations and couple them with revenue from advertising and subscriptions and a separate foundation.

The move was made to create financial stability after the Tribune laid off a third of its newsroom in 2018.

Now the big question is, will any other media outlets follow the Tribune’s lead of going non-profit? In an interview with Medill Local News Initiative’s Mark Jacob, Salt Lake Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce said other news organizations have reached out for advice.

“In terms of saving local newspapers,” Napier-Pearce said, “this is definitely an option that I think a lot of local newspapers are going to explore because the economics of print are just real tough right now.”


Is Spotify knocking at The Ringer’s door?

The Ringer founder Bill Simmons. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Last week, The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin and Anne Steel broke the story that Spotify is in early talks to acquire The Ringer — Bill Simmons’ sports and pop culture media site that has built an impressive stable of podcasts. Now, just to be clear, nothing appears imminent and it might never happen. Still, the staff at The Ringer is a tad nervous. The Ringer union put out a statement Tuesday that said:

“The Ringer’s staff is made up of far more than podcasters: writers, editors, illustrators, fact checkers, copy editors, social media editors, and video and audio producers. It’s our hope that any future sale both recognizes the importance of that staff and honors the existing progress we’ve made at the bargaining table since our union was recognized in August.”

As The Washington Post’s Ben Strauss points out, “Ringer employees are worried about the jobs of non-podcasters in a deal with Spotify, which does not produce or distribute any written content.”

On one hand, Simmons has been masterful in building his website, and it’s hard to imagine he would put his non-audio employees in a vulnerable spot. Then again, Simmons has placed a huge emphasis on podcasting and if someone is willing to pay him $200 million and allow him to continue having editorial control over his podcast network, who could blame him for selling?

In a really insightful piece for his “Hot Pod” podcasting newsletter for Nieman Lab, Nicholas Quah writes that the deal makes “a ton of sense” for Spotify, which is a major player in podcasting. As the WSJ notes, The Ringer produces more than 30 podcasts and brings in more than 100 million downloads a month.


The Athletic flexes for more funding

News continues to be good for The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based sports website. Axios’ Sara Fischer reports that The Athletic has just raised another $50 million, for a total of $139.5 million in funding since launching in 2016. Value of the company is now believed to be at about $500 million.

The Athletic co-founder Adam Hansmann said the company expects to make a profit in 2020 and will soon hit a million subscribers. The site also claims that 80% of its subscribers stay past one year. The company now has more than 500 full-time employees and the latest round of funding is expected to go toward editorial operations overseas.

If you believe all these numbers (and most are coming from the company itself), you can’t help but come to the conclusion that The Athletic has been wildly successful. There’s no question that the writing and journalism is top-notch, providing in-depth reporting and long-form features that many newspapers no longer provide. But it’s the economics (again, if you believe the owners) that have surpassed the expectations most had when The Athletic launched.


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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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