By:
August 13, 2021

When it comes to covering COVID-19 and the pandemic that has gripped the world for more than a year now, no journalist has been more in tune, more insightful, more sharp and more intelligent than The Atlantic’s Ed Yong.

The brilliant British journalist was on top of the pandemic even before we knew a pandemic was coming. In 2018, Yong wrote, “The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?”

Throughout 2020, Yong wrote several ahead-of-the-story stories, using science and expert sources to smartly lay out the facts and answer the questions that were on everyone’s mind. It’s what led me to call him “the most important and impactful journalist of the year.” And earlier this year, Yong won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting — a well-deserved honor that Yong felt conflicted about. He told me at the time, “It’s surreal. I wish that the stories I wrote had never been necessary, but I’m proud to have been able to help my readers make sense of a crisis that often defied sense.”

And now Yong continues to help us all make sense of a crisis that just doesn’t seem to end. His latest right-for-the-moment story was published Thursday in The Atlantic: “How the Pandemic Now Ends.”

As with all of Yong’s pieces, it’s a must-read.

This latest surge in cases — and debates over vaccines and masks — comes as no surprise to Yong. But there is something different now: the delta variant.

Yong explains how we arrived at this point and where it all goes from here, and does it in a way that only Yong can. He breaks it down into three parts: now, next and eventually. And he does it in such a way that is easy to understand.

In a Twitter thread, Yong writes, “Many folks are upset & confused by the last month. Here’s an attempt to reset expectations, lay out our goals, map the near-term future, & show how the pandemic ends — which it will.”

But we have a lot to do before we get to an end.

Yong tweeted, “The bottom line: Vaccines remain the best way for *individuals* to protect themselves, but *societies* can’t treat them as the only defense. Delta is so transmissible that vacc’n can blunt it, but we still need masks & the rest.”

He added, “The endgame is endemicity — the virus will still be here but won’t cause as much damage due to widespread immunity. Most people will meet it. The goals are: ensure as many as possible do so after 2 vax doses; and spread the other infections out.”

It’s a detailed story that will give you hope, as well as some pause. But, most of all, it will give you the facts and, as Yong said, help us reset our expectations and map out our goals.

Read it.

Rachel Maddow leaving MSNBC?

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in 2017. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Juicy headline on this scoop by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright and Maxwell Tani: “Rachel Maddow Seriously Considers Leaving MSNBC.”

Maddow is MSNBC’s biggest star and hosts one of cable news’ most-watched prime-time shows. But Cartwright and Tani write, “According to six people familiar with the situation, Maddow, 48, is seriously considering leaving the network when her contract ends early next year as negotiations drag on and the temptation to take her brand elsewhere or start her own lucrative media company has grown.”

Maybe Maddow hinting that she might look to leave is just a play to kick-start stalled negotiations. But Cartwright and Tani report Maddow might want to spend more time with her family. And instead of being tied down to a daily TV show, she could have more freedom by doing a podcast or something on a streaming service.

CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote, “One vision for Maddow’s media future looks like this: A multimedia smorgasbord fit for the Substack era, built around direct relationships with paying subscribers. One of the sources said newsletters, podcasts and streaming TV shows have all been discussed.”

Maddow’s departure would be a serious blow to MSNBC. Cartwright and Tani wrote, “Maddow’s decision may represent the first major test for new network president Rashida Jones.”

They also astutely add, “It has not been lost on network higher-ups that MSNBC does not have an immediate or obvious successor if Maddow chooses to leave.”

We’ll see if Maddow chooses to walk away from one of the prime spots in cable news. Once you give up such a gig, it’s hard to get it back. Then again, maybe that’s just fine with Maddow, who certainly won’t have any trouble rounding up a good job if she wants.

Newsletter news at The New York Times

The New York Times is going to make a bunch of its newsletters available only to subscribers. The Times’ Katie Robertson writes, “The Times, which has produced free newsletters for 20 years, now has about 50 newsletters, which are read by 15 million people each week. Eleven of those will become subscriber-only, alongside seven new newsletters.”

Alex Hardiman, the Times’ chief product officer, told Robertson, “We have to make sure that we’re adding much more distinctive value to what it means to feel like you are a subscriber. So a lot of the work now is about making sure that every single time you experience The Times as a subscriber, you know it and you feel it.”

Hardiman told Robertson that those who are not subscribers will still be able to read dozens of free newsletters, including The Morning and DealBook.

Meanwhile, those seven new newsletters available only to subscribers? Robertson writes, “The seven new newsletters will be written by Peter Coy, a former Bloomberg Businessweek journalist; (Kara) Swisher, a tech journalist who writes and hosts a podcast for The Times’s Opinion section; Jane Coaston, the host of ‘The Argument,’ a Times Opinion podcast; Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociologist and writer; the cultural critic Jay Caspian Kang; Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest; and (John) McWhorter, an author and Columbia University linguist.”

Soon-Shiong on Sway

Patrick Soon-Shiong. (Courtesy: The New York Times)

Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the Los Angeles Times, is the guest on Kara Swisher’s latest podcast “Sway” for The New York Times. The two talked about a wide array of topics, but obviously spent a lot of time on journalism, including:

  • On why he picked Kevin Merida as his new executive editor: “Well, he had all the right ingredients and the chops. He came from The Washington Post and then ESPN. The Undefeated. And most importantly, I think, we thought exactly alike. There was a mind meld that we are not limited by constriction, a podcast, music, books, book publishing. And I said, Kevin, the first thing I want you to do obviously, is make sure that at the end of the day, journalistic strength is still the core. We cannot, will not, walk away from that core.”
  • On billionaires and the decline of local news: “They should be worried. When you look at local journalism in California, the amount of newspapers that have been destroyed and gone is devastating in the country, frankly. I don’t know if they really realize what’s happening and you know, unfortunately, this next generation. They don’t get their news from newspapers. They get the news through Facebook, right. And they get news through Google and Twitter and, and TikTok. And so, I think it could be a downfall of informed citizens.”
  • And they also talk at length about hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s takeover of Tribune Publishing.

I know I’ve written this before here, but I’m a huge fan of Swisher’s “Sway” podcast, and of Swisher. Is there anyone cooler in journalism than Swisher?

Interview of the day

Did you see the news clip this week of parents in Tennessee verbally assaulting those who spoke up on behalf of masks after a school board meeting? The incidents were caught on video. Michael Miller, a parent accosted by anti-maskers, spoke Thursday with CNN’s Victor Blackwell on “CNN Newsroom.”

Miller said, “Every time I watch that (video), I’m terrified. In the moment, I knew it was bad. I called my wife as soon as I got out of there. I called a friend on the way home. I drove the most convoluted way home possible after that. I had no idea how bad it was until I saw it and someone shared it with me the next day.”

He added, “The terror of that day will take time to heal. … Board meetings are for parents and concerned community members to have peaceful discourse with one another. Board members should not be sitting on a board being threatened with their lives. Parents shouldn’t feel threatened for their lives walking into a parking lot. That is not the America I know.”

Open Tabs

If you enjoy The Poynter Report, I have something else from Poynter that might interest you. It’s a new newsletter debuting today called Open Tabs. Each Friday, Poynter managing editor Ren LaForme will suggest three Poynter stories you should read before finishing your workweek. It might include stories on Poynter.org, or from Poynter’s PolitiFact or MediaWise or the IFCN. Plus, Ren will share behind-the-scenes details about how the stories came together. Here’s how to subscribe.

Media tidbits

  • Bless the folks over at Media Matters. They are the ones (well, writer Bobby Lewis and research from Beatrice Mount) who have done all the yeoman’s work to determine that One American News has aired more than 22 hours of Mike Lindell’s election fraud scam symposium in just two days. The symposium has been every bit off the rails as you think it would be. Check out Lewis’ story for all the unhinged details.
  • Clarification: In Thursday’s newsletter, I referenced a quote from Preet Bharara. I should have written that he is the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
  • Jennifer Mitchell and Tom Canedo have been named the presidents of CBS Stations, joining Adrienne Roark, who started earlier this month. Deadline’s Ted Johnson has more.
  • Well, this is rather embarrassing. The law firm representing management at The New York Times as they negotiate with tech and product staffers who are unionizing sent a strategy memo to management. And, oh, to the union, too. The Daily Beast’s Max Tani has more in “NY Times Lawyers Accidentally Send Private Strategy Memo to Staff Union.”
  • Strong lineup and plenty of good topics for tonight’s “Washington Week” (8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations). Moderator Yamiche Alcindor will be joined by Politico’s Laura Barrón-López, Spectrum News’ Eva McKend, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow. The resignation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be among the main topics.

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

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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