April 28, 2020

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Layoffs at Gannett. Firings at Fox. Changes coming to ESPN. And, as always, more White House coronavirus task force news. That and so much more to go over and analyze with today’s newsletter, so let’s get started with Gannett.

Getting Gannett’s numbers

Gannett newspapers are laying off journalists all across the country. How many? Who? Where? Gannett isn’t really saying.

But my Poynter colleagues Kristen Hare and Ren LaForme are doing their best to publish as much information as they can about it. Their constantly updated story is now on the Poynter website.

They wrote, “Without official word from Gannett or the newspapers impacted about numbers, we’re including each layoff that’s been reported by affected journalists on social media or otherwise reported elsewhere.”

It’s unclear if the layoffs are directly tied to the advertising decline and other problems caused by the coronavirus or if they are related to the Gannett-GateHouse integration.

As I mentioned, Gannett isn’t saying much, even though it’s clear layoffs are happening all over and there are countless Gannett employees who could be impacted by these moves. The only comment that Gannett has made, as of late Monday, came from a public relations person who told Hare, “We remain steadfast in our efforts to integrate our new company in order to realize the full potential of our combined resources and scale to sustain and preserve quality journalism for the long-term. The moves, while imperative, are tough. The elimination of any job and the loss of valued colleagues is deeply felt.”

These are difficult times in journalism, especially print journalism. Gannett is going through many of the financial difficulties many news outlets and other businesses are going through. But as Hare tweeted and I agree: “I am reminded, in covering the ongoing story of layoffs right now, that newsrooms and the companies that own them need to remember this: If you’re in the business of pushing for, demanding and going to battle for transparency, you better give it right back.”

Turning on the news

People in Illinois are getting their coronavirus news mostly from national and local TV. That’s according to a poll conducted by Northwestern University. But the guess is the numbers probably are the same across the country.

The poll shows that people consume national news 4.42 days a week and local news 4.36 days per week. That is more than news on social media (3.39), online-only news sites (3.01), local newspapers of both print and online (2.41) and radio/podcasts (1.84).

These numbers are similar to another study done by SmithGeiger that shows local TV news is the “primary source” of news. In that poll, 41% of respondents said local news is their primary news source, followed by Facebook (39%), local radio (19%), local newspaper websites (16%) and local print newspapers (10%).

Zooming in

Reporters are supposed to be good at digging deep to get valuable information. But a reporter at the London-based Financial Times might have gone a little too far in trying to get a scoop.

According to The Independent, also based in the United Kingdom, Financial Times reporter Mark Di Stefano snuck into private Zoom meetings held by both The Independent and The Evening Standard. The meetings reportedly were about how the coronavirus pandemic would be impacting them in such ways as salary cuts and furloughs.

The Independent story has the ins and outs of Di Stefano sneaking onto the calls. It also reported the Financial Times is investigating the matter. The Financial Times and Di Stefano declined comment to the Independent.

According to The Independent, Di Stefano joined the Financial Times from BuzzFeed in January to cover media and technology. It said Di Stefano has “gained a reputation as a quick source of media news and gossip, breaking stories to his 100,000 followers on Twitter.”

Besides revealing shady behavior, this story also is a cautionary tale for companies holding Zoom meetings to discuss sensitive information.

Strong commentary

Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

We’re starting to see more media stories about sexual assault allegations from 1993 made against presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Former Biden staffer Tara Reade accused Biden of assaulting her, and on Monday, Business Insider’s Rich McHugh quoted two women who said Reade talked to them about the alleged assault.

Biden’s campaign said the allegations are false, and Biden has not addressed them. But he needs to, says CNN’s Chris Cillizza.

Cillizza wrote, “Given both his pledge to do better than Trump — in every aspect of being president — and accusations of improper touching that have surfaced in the past, the allegations by Reade are not the sort of thing Biden can or should be allowed to deny via a senior female campaign staffer. Reade’s allegation needs to be directly addressed by the candidate himself.

“And Biden needs to answer several questions including: a) Does he remember Reade at all? b) Did they ever interact? c) Had he ever heard of this allegation from her prior to a few weeks ago. These questions are fair to be asked of any candidate for president — given the allegation — and that Biden, if he is doing more than talking the talk about restoring a higher standard in the White House, needs to answer.”

Fired at Fox

Trump supporters and social media personalities Lynnette Hardaway, left, and Rochelle Richardson, right, known as Diamond and Silk. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson — better known as the controversial MAGA-supporting “Diamond & Silk” — are out at Fox News. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright and Justin Baragona reported that the two won’t be seen on Fox News or the streaming service Fox Nation again because, the Daily Beast wrote, they have promoted “conspiracy theories and disinformation about the coronavirus.”

During one livestream, Diamond asked, “What I need to know is how many people have passed away in New York, and what I need to know is: Who has the bodies? I need for somebody that does investigative work to call the morgues. To call the funeral homes. We need to know, because I don’t trust anything else that comes out of (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s) mouth now. … Something’s not right here. Something is off here.”

She also said, “Is this being deliberately spread? Look, I’m not being a conspiracy theorist, this is real, but I’m asking my own questions. What the hell is going on?”

Silk, meanwhile, has said coronavirus was “man-made” and “engineered,” among other baseless conspiracies.

Covering climate

There have been many stories that have gone undercovered in recent weeks, simply swallowed up by the biggest story of our generation — the coronavirus. Among the stories not getting the kind of attention now that they were getting at the start of 2020 is the climate. Climate coverage had really started gathering momentum in the past year but a lot of high-profile coverage is just not being done right now.

But the Los Angeles Times is moving forward with plans to start a climate newsletter. “Boiling Point” will be led by reporter Sammy Roth and will provide the latest news on rising temperatures, public lands, water, clean energy and more. It will debut on May 7. To get it, you can sign up here.

In a story announcing the new coverage, Times environmental editor Monte Morin wrote, “Boiling Point is about a whole lot more than the environment and ecology of California, though. It’s about the air you breathe, the water you drink and the energy that powers the device you’re reading these words on right now. It’s about our changing climate, rising sea levels, devastating wildfires, and drought. It’s also about the role we and our government choose to play as stewards of our natural resources, and the search for solutions to our long reliance on fossil fuels.

Yes. No. Yes.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

There was White House coronavirus briefing scheduled for Monday. Then it was canceled. Then it was rescheduled again.

Expect to see more of that kind of flip-flopping in the weeks ahead.

There were multiple reports over the weekend that we could be seeing fewer of the briefings in the future for a couple reasons. Some in the administration don’t see the point of doing it every day if there is nothing all that new to report. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there are concerns among those close to President Donald Trump that the daily briefings are hurting him politically — especially when he makes false claims and then tangles with the media when called out on what he has and has not done.

It seems counterproductive for anyone in the media to ever argue for less access. After all, it wasn’t all long ago that many in the media, including me, complained about how long it had been since there was an official White House press briefing. We wagged a collective finger at, first, Sarah Sanders and then Stephanie Grisham for going more than a year without holding an official briefing about anything.

Then the coronavirus hit. So it’s hard to gripe now when there is a briefing practically every day with the president himself (and not the press secretary) taking the lead.

But could you make the argument that some of the press conferences actually add to the stress of the country? Let’s leave aside whether you lean right or left, whether you think Trump is doing well or not, whether you believe Trump is the best president we’ve ever had or the absolute worst or somewhere in the middle. However you think, there are days when the press conferences are filled with so much uncertainty and so much tension that you’re left feeling more anxious when they’re over than before they started.

If there’s news, then yes, the White House should have news conferences. And even if there’s no news, it’s hard to argue against a news conference. But, some days, it’s not a bad thing if the White House briefing room is dark.

As far as Monday, the tone from both the president and the media was civil, although there were reports that Trump, again, made misleading and false statements.

The dance picks up

Parts three and four of “The Last Dance” documentary about Michael Jordan and the Bulls from the 1990s picked up the pace from episodes one and two. Basketball fans seem to be going bonkers over just how good it is, but I’m not sure casual fans will find it all that compelling.

I’m somewhere in the middle — I’m a sports fan, I remember the Bulls teams, but wasn’t necessarily a fan of that team or Jordan. And so my reaction is in the middle. I’d give the documentary, so far, the grade of B. Then again, we’re not even halfway through. There are six more episodes left.

The big storylines from the third and fourth episodes? Just how shocking Dennis Rodman was (he asked for — and received! — permission to go on a Vegas vacation in the middle of the season) and how petty the Detroit Pistons were when they lost to the Bulls and refused to shake hands. It led to one of the best moments in the documentary so far when Jordan called Pistons star Isiah Thomas an R-rated name.

Jordan said before the documentary that he believed some people might not like how he comes off because of his competitiveness. But so far, Jordan has come off as very likable because, more than ever before, we’re seeing the real Jordan instead of the carefully constructed personality he showed publicly when he played.

Big shakeup coming to ESPN?

(AP Photo/David Kohl, File)

New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand — one of the most trusted writers in the business — reports that ESPN Radio might shake things up. That includes Mike Greenberg returning to radio and, perhaps, Dan Le Batard leaving ESPN Radio. Greenberg would keep his morning TV show, “Get Up,” but might get a 1 to 3 p.m. radio show.

“As for Le Batard,” Marchand wrote, “he still has more than a year left on his contract, but there is a feeling among many that his program does not mesh with the tastes of Norby Williamson, who is ESPN’s executive vice president and the point person on ESPN Radio’s programming. Le Batard does more of a variety show rather than strictly sports.”

There’s no word on what it might mean for Le Batard’s “Highly Questionable” TV show. In addition, Marchand reported that ESPN could shake up its nationally-syndicated morning radio show “Golic & Wingo” and that radio host Will Cain is going to leave ESPN for Fox News and Fox Nation.

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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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