Hey Twitter, want to start a subscription model? Here’s who to start charging first.

CEO Jack Dorsey told analysts on an investor call that the social media giant is looking for ways to make more money, including through subscriptions.

July 24, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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What if you had to pay to tweet? Or retweet?

What if you had to pay to troll someone or use a fake name to lob insults and lies and generally be a pain in the neck?

Well, it might not come to that, exactly, but changes could eventually come to Twitter. CEO Jack Dorsey told analysts on an investor call that the social media giant is looking for ways to make more money, including through subscriptions.

A pay to play model for Twitter?

CNN’s Brian Fung writes, “The move comes as Twitter suffers a sharp decline in its core advertising business.”

Dorsey told investors that “you will likely see some tests this year” on various money-making models. While Dorsey said the company is in the very early phases of exploration, he acknowledges that he has “a really high bar for when we would ask consumers to pay for aspects of Twitter.”

My thought? Charge people to comment on other people’s tweets. It might not make much money, but it certainly would cut down on the troll factor — my vote for the very worst part of Twitter.

Seriously, however, figuring out how to make a subscription model work is more complicated than you might think, according to a piece earlier this month by VentureBeat’s Emil Protalinski.

Protalinski wrote, “From Twitter’s perspective, a subscription platform has to generate more money than ads would — without alienating the general user population. Put simply, Twitter doesn’t want to create a user class system. Taken to the other extreme, Twitter can’t start charging all its users. The service would disappear overnight, even if pay-to-play priced out all the toxicity on the platform. Twitter’s power exists beyond Twitter.com. The fact that everyone — with or without an account — can view tweets is paramount to ensuring Twitter remains relevant to public discourse. Engagement is 10% — the other 90% is clout.”

By the way, while Twitter advertising is down, users are way up. Twitter reported daily users are up 34% to 186 million.

Despicable accusations

Tucker Carlson. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

If you believe this story by The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple — and there’s no reason to assume it isn’t true — then what Tucker Carlson pulled on his Fox News show this week truly was disgraceful. As reported earlier this week, Carlson went on the air and said The New York Times was working on a story that was going to divulge where his family lives. Even though no such story has run and the Times assured Carlson and Fox News that it would not reveal the location, address or show any photographs of Carlson’s home, Carlson named the reporter and photographer of the story.

And yet the thing that Carlson worried about — that he and his family would be harassed or worse — is exactly what is happening to the reporters he named on air. The address of the reporter, a freelancer in Maine, was posted online immediately after Carlson’s on-air comments. The photographer said someone tried to break into his home while he was there with his wife within an hour of Carlson’s comments. In addition, the reporter said he has received thousands of emails, most of them abusive, threatening and hateful. He told Wemple that family members have been threatened as well.

So about that Times story. Yes, apparently the Times is working on a story about the little town in Maine where Carlson often tapes his TV show. It’s certainly a notable story. Others have written about Carlson doing his show from Maine. (I wrote it about it a year ago, as well.) Not only did the Times have no plans to print Carlson’s address, Carlson apparently knew that before outing the reporters of the story on his most-watched cable news TV show.

But, as Wemple points out, his rant directed at the Times actually turned out to be most threatening to two freelance journalists.

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told Wemple, “He misled his viewers into believing we would publish his address when he was aware that we had no intention of doing so and when the network was specifically told we would not reveal his home. Many wrongly think that we did publish his address and even a picture of his house. It inspired the exact same kind of personal harassment against others which he so indignantly and falsely claimed to be a victim of himself. Hours after the broadcast someone attempted to break into the home of a photographer who doesn’t even know where Carlson lives and his followers have waged an attack on people who have nothing to do with the story. And if he has any honor and if Fox has any honor, they will admit they were wrong.”

The Times for podcasting

No one analyzes the ins and outs of the podcast world better than Nieman Lab’s Nicholas Quah. So it was interesting to read his take on The New York Times’ acquisition of Serial Productions, as well as entering a “creative and strategic alliance” with “This American Life.”

Quah writes the moves are the Times’ attempt to build upon the blockbuster success of its own podcast, “The Daily.”

So how’s it all going to work? Well, read Quah’s detailed explanation, but essentially, Serial Productions will be independent from the Times, at least for now.

In addition, Quah wrote, “There’s one more piece worth exploring: whether this acquisition is part of an effort leading up to some sort of new paid audio product.” As Quah noted, that idea was first raised in a March column by New York Times media columnist Ben Smith.

Perks for the bosses

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Nervous McClatchy journalists and retired executives who have lost pension income had reason to be especially annoyed by my report Thursday on continued high levels of executive compensation at the company and in the rest of the industry.

But wait, there’s more.

I had been unable to find the disclosure of 2019 pay. However, several sharp-eyed readers did — deep in one of the company’s filings in its bankruptcy proceedings. And no surprise, executive earnings rocked along in 2019 and the first month and a half of 2020.

CEO Craig Forman drew 2019 bonuses totaling $1.7 million on top of $77,000 a month in salary. Plus, a stunning perk: a monthly housing and travel allowance of $35,000. The payment was raised from $5,000 in his 2017 contract to $35,000 in 2019 with the explanation that Forman continues to commute from his home in San Francisco to McClatchy headquarters in Sacramento (as reported then in Columbia Journalism Review).

A separate docket motion itemizes professional fees for ongoing federal court bankruptcy proceedings from February through the end of May totaling more than $10 million. Top billers were the Skadden Arps law firm ($5.1 million) and FTI Consulting ($1.9 million).

McClatchy has announced that hedge fund Chatham Asset Management was the winning bidder at auction for the company, but deal details have not been finalized or approved by the court.

CBS News news

Alvin Patrick (Courtesy: CBS News)

Alvin Patrick, a veteran journalist with more than three decades of broadcast news experience, has been named executive producer of CBS News’ newly-formed Race and Culture Unit. The new unit hopes to help shape coverage at CBS News in an attempt to ensure the network’s reporting reflects diverse perspectives.

In a statement, Patrick said, “I look forward to building a team that produces informative stories with context, tone and intention. The goal will be to cover diverse subjects and communities dynamically and honestly, in keeping with the great storytelling tradition of CBS News.”

Patrick worked as a producer on such news shows as “Nightline,” “60 Minutes,” “CBS This Morning,” “Face the Nation,” and HBO’s “Real Sports,” among others.

Fan-tastic

Baseball is back. Major League Baseball returned to real games on Thursday. It’s better than nothing, but watching games without fans still takes some getting used to, even with stadiums pumping in fake crowd noise. No fans in the stands is a visual jolt to those of us watching at home.

But Fox is going to try to fix that. Using state-of-the-art technology, the network will insert virtual fans on its broadcasts starting Saturday. New York Post media columnist Andrew Marchand has seen it and writes, “while not perfect, it is realistic.” You can get a sneak peek for yourself as the Post story has a clip of what it will look like. (There’s also this tweet from Fox Sports.) Marchand points out that it was only a 90-second preview, but if you see it, it does look better than no fans.

Marchand writes the network also could use the technology for NFL games in the fall.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

  • Sunday marks 100 days until Election Day. NBC News — including MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo — will host an hourlong special called “Decision 2020: 100 Days To Go.” It will air Sunday on MSNBC at 10 p.m. Eastern and stream on NBC News NOW, CNBC.com and NoticiasTelemundo.com at 8 p.m. Eastern. “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd will anchor. Guests include NBC News’ Steve Kornacki and Kristen Welker, CNBC’s Kayla Tausche and Jon Fortt and Telemundo’s Cristina Londono.
  • Fox News has “parted ways” with news host Heather Childers. CNN’s Brian Stelter first reported that Childers is no longer affiliated with the network. She hadn’t been on the air since March, when she came to work visibly sick as the coronavirus was becoming a major story. Sources told Stelter that Fox News employees were concerned and management was angry that she came to work while sick. Childers never returned to the air despite lobbying to return on Twitter, including tweeting directly to President Donald Trump.
  • Big announcement in the photojournalism world on Thursday as The Associated Press announced that Sony Electronics Inc. will be the exclusive imaging products and support provider for AP news photographers and video journalists. The AP provides about 3,000 photos and 200 videos each day. Going to one supplier means photojournalists at the AP will be able to work together more efficiently and easily by being able to share equipment and technology. You can read more about it here.
  • Troy Young resigned Thursday as president of Hearst magazines, which oversees such publications as Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country and Cosmopolitan. His resignation came a day after a New York Times story in which he was accused of leading a toxic work environment, which included him making sexually offensive remarks.
  • Legendary sports radio host Mike Francesa, from New York’s WFAN, announced Thursday that today will be his last show on the station after 33 years. Best remembered for co-hosting a show with Chris Russo called “Mike and the Mad Dog,” Francesa has been doing the show solo since 2008. Francesa, 66, “retired” once before — in 2017, but returned less than a year later. He said this wasn’t necessarily a retirement, and that he could do guest shows, but this appears to be the end of him doing a daily show. What a run. The man is on the short list of the greatest talk show hosts ever. New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand has more.

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

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