Journalism’s grim news keeps getting worse

Your Tuesday Poynter Report

April 7, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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A little more than a week ago, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted how some in the media couldn’t contain their “glee & delight” in reporting that the U.S. has had more coronavirus cases than China. He called it “beyond being grotesque, it’s bad journalism.”

Then, over the weekend, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, responding to a tweet from a Washington Post reporter about unemployment in the U.S., tweeted, “The press HATED that, three months ago, we had the lowest African-American & Hispanic unemployment ever recorded. Now that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic—which originated in Wuhan, not the Oval Office—too many in the press are giddy with glee.”

Actually, what’s grotesque is suggesting that anyone in the media is giddy with glee or delight about anything to do with the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has caused thousands of deaths, including those who work in the media. Hundreds of thousands are sick, including those who work in the media. Thousands of journalists are putting the health of themselves and their families at risk by covering this story.

And, beyond that, few businesses are taking the economic hit that media outlets are. Journalists across the country are losing their jobs or taking pay cuts. Alt-weeklies are shuttering. Some daily papers are no longer printed daily.

All because of the coronavirus.

This isn’t impacting just a couple of papers here and there. The ramifications are being felt all over. In fact, Poynter’s Kristen Hare has compiled a running list of all the newsrooms that have had layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs because of the coronavirus. The list is stunning, depressing and, unfortunately, not even close to being complete.

The hits just kept on coming Monday with The Dallas Morning News and the papers in the MediaNews Group (owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital and formerly known as Digital First Media) taking major cost-cutting steps.

In Dallas, the Morning News managed to avoid layoffs, but the paper announced pay reductions for staff.

However, layoffs did hit some of Alden’s papers. The Denver Post laid off 13, including four in the newsroom, and the Boston Herald is believed to have laid off at least a dozen.

There’s more. NPR announced it won’t have a summer internship program. Expect to see more of those kinds of announcements in the coming days. Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds wrote how Gannett’s stock plummeted to 65 cents a share at close Monday.

Poynter’s Al Tompkins reported on furloughs and pay cuts at TEGNA, owners of more than 60 local TV stations in more than 50 markets.

These were just a few to add to Hare’s list, which my Poynter colleague and interim managing editor Ren LaForme said on Twitter was “the worst thing we have ever published.”

Maybe someone else can compile the list of those in the media who are supposedly giddy with glee and delight over the coronavirus. I bet it’s shorter than the list of layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. And deaths.

Joining forces

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The New York Times had an insightful, yet off-the-path story Monday that introduced an intriguing new project. Mammoth Lakes, a California resort town high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, is typically an escape for those looking to get away. But not now. Not with the coronavirus.

As the story says, “Not when surrounding Mono County has the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the state. Not when the county’s lone hospital has just 17 beds. Not when transferring a patient to another hospital means a special medical evacuation flight at a cost of up to $50,000, and when even this option can be delayed by frequent blizzard conditions. And when the town’s thin air only makes respiratory ailments worse.”

What makes this story even more interesting is it was written by Annie Berman, a second-year student at the University of California Berkeley School of Journalism. It’s all a part of a new joint project between UC-Berkeley and The Times. More than 80 students and nearly 20 journalism instructors have come together to report on the impact of the coronavirus in California.

According to the Times, “They are gathering data, helping correspondents and producing stories.”

Julie Bloom, deputy national editor at the Times, told me that the Times has plenty of resources and correspondents for its huge California readership, but forming a partnership with the UC-Berkeley journalism school was a way to help build out that coverage. The investigative reporting program at the J-school at UC-Berkeley is directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning David Barstow, a former Times reporter.

“We’ve already got a steady stream of ideas and stories in the works,” Bloom said. “We plan on using them regularly.”

Many of the stories will be student-driven, and some students will be paired with Times correspondents. If the first story is any indication, the partnership looks promising.

“Yeah, it was fantastic,” Bloom said. “It was a fascinating slice of life and angle and all the things that we hope to give our readers.”

A sports network without sports

A grounds crew worker cuts the infield in front of empty seats at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

What’s a sports network to do when there’s no live sports? ESPN is trying to figure that out on the fly.

One day there was sports and the next day there wasn’t, and now ESPN is left to fill several stations with around-the-clock programming. So far, it has been a mish-mash of old games, sports movies, documentaries and live shows — “Get Up,” “First Take,” “NFL Live” and “SportsCenter” — that talk about whatever sports news is happening. Fortunately for ESPN, the NFL is still able to generate news with offseason transactions and the upcoming draft.

In an interview with ESPN’s Front Row, ESPN executive vice president/programming Burke Magnus said, “There is simply no appropriate comparison to what we are all currently going through — both at ESPN and those who consume ESPN. As a result, we rely on our strong relationship with sports fans and look to build upon that every day through creative, distinctive programming.”

What ESPN needs is live games.

“If and when health officials and experts determine that specific live competitions can be safely staged for all, we will explore any opportunities in that space, given how live events are such a driver of sports programming,” Magnus said. “Along those lines, one thing we could consider is live game content from international leagues or events that potentially could resume a bit earlier than the time frame we are seeing in the U.S. We are positioning ourselves to be ready — whether it’s soccer, basketball, baseball, rugby or anything else. There is clearly a thirst for live games and it may provide a unique opportunity to introduce fans to events or leagues that may not have had as much exposure here.”

Most of all, Magnus feels the pain of the sports fan who desperately misses sports at a time when we could all use the distraction.

“For me personally, I want to see the Yankees play,” Magnus said. “I will miss not seeing Serena (Williams) and (Roger Federer) compete at Wimbledon. I need to know who will win the NBA Finals or wear the green jacket. The list goes on and on. We are focused on working hard day-to-day to bring fans the very best sports content available in these unprecedented times.”

High school Times

High school students, like everyone else, are cooped up at home. So The New York Times came up with a smart plan to help those students kill time, stay informed and maybe drum up some more readers. Through a deal with Verizon, the Times will offer students and teachers in U.S. high schools free digital access to NYTimes.com. The deal is from now through July 6. (Here are the details to sign up.)

In a joint statement, Times CEO Mark Thompson and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg wrote, “This means that even while studying remotely, students will have deeply reported, expert journalism at their fingertips — from international issues to arts and culture to science, politics and more.”

I know the Times has like a bazillion people working for it, but this is the kind of sharp, forward thinking that more newsrooms need. After all, this is a simple gesture. Not only does it help the students and teachers, it exposes its product to new readers who might become permanent paid subscribers.

Poynter’s Kelly McBride named NPR public editor

Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride has been named public editor of NPR. Yes, she is my colleague, but this is a fact: McBride, who is also the chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter, is one of the most respected media ethicists in the world.

“NPR has an absolutely massive audience, something like 30 million people a week,” McBride, who will continue her role at Poynter, told me. “I’m eager to discuss the role of independent journalism in our democracy and hear what they need, and what would make journalism better, specifically NPR’s journalism. But I expect there will be lessons for the rest of journalism as well.”

In a statement, NPR president and CEO John Lansing said, “We are eager to have her focus on the work of our newsroom and, through Poynter, bring even more resources to bear on this important role. She will continue to build transparency in our journalism and advocate for audiences on every platform.”

McBride replaces Elizabeth Jensen, who, in case you missed it, wrote a farewell column last week.

Palace intrigue at The Hollywood Reporter

Matthew Belloni has resigned as editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter. Why? It’s not known for sure, but Variety’s Brent Lang and Matt Donnelly reported that it’s because Belloni had conflicts with the CEOs of Valence Media, which owns THR.

Variety claims Belloni had a problem with Valence co-CEOs Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchu wanting prior warning to any negative stories about Valence’s business interests, as well as other conflicts. Part of Belloni’s memo said, “Today’s announcement is the result of a series of conversations I’ve had for a few months with Modi about the direction at THR. Some may want to read into that, but I’ll just say that well-meaning, diligent, ambitious people can disagree about fundamental priorities and strategies.”

Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride has been working with The Hollywood Reporter and its parent company, Media Rights Capital, for 18 months, improving their ethics policies, training their staff and coaching company executives.

Variety wrote, “Sources said Wiczyk and Satchu wanted to come up with a list of people and institutions that it might be problematic for THR to cover, something that Belloni believed was untenable. He was told to embrace the new order or resign.”

Media notes

NBC News’ Lester Holt (Courtesy: NBC News)

  • Lester Holt will anchor tonight’s “NBC News Special Report: Coronavirus Pandemic.” The show will air at 10 p.m. Eastern across NBC, MSNBC and the NBC News NOW streaming service. It’s also in collaboration with Facebook, and viewers can submit questions via Facebook and Instagram to NBC’s team of experts, doctors and correspondents.
  • The annual IRE Awards, recognizing outstanding investigative journalism, were announced Monday. Click here for the complete list of winners.
  • Poynter’s Kelly McBride and San Francisco Chronicle editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper will be a part of a webinar today from the Global Mentor Network to talk about leadership, community-building and connectedness during this time of the coronavirus crisis. Thuy Vu, president of the Global Mentor Network, will moderate. The webinar will be today at 1:30 p.m. Eastern (10:30 a.m. Pacific). Go to this link to sign up.

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

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This article was updated to clarify that David Barstow runs the investigative reporting program at UC-Berkeley’s J-School. Edward Wasserman is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism.

Comments

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  • re “The J-school at UC-Berkeley is directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning David Barstow, a former Times reporter.”

    A quick note to say Edward Wasserman is the Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism. Mr. Barstow runs the Investigative Reporting Program at the J-School.