By:
June 23, 2021

Sadly, we feared this would happen. But it doesn’t make it any less of a gut punch.

And, even more sadly, the citizens of Chicago, and consumers of good journalism, are worse off because of it.

Almost 40 journalists at the Chicago Tribune are taking buyouts and leaving the paper, according to a report in the Tribune.

Almost 40! 

That number includes some of the most talented voices in the business and some of the most influential writers in the Windy City.

But as I said, this is no surprise. The buyouts come not long after hedge fund Alden Global Capital acquired Tribune Publishing, owner of the Tribune and other publications, for $633 million. Buyouts were first offered to nonunion editors and support staff, and more than a dozen accepted. Then another 24 newsroom union employees applied for and were accepted for buyouts.

Many include some of the highest-profile names at the paper, including columnists Mary Schmich, whom I mentioned in the newsletter earlier this week, Dahleen Glanton, Steve Chapman, Heidi Stevens, Eric Zorn and John Kass. In addition, Phil Rosenthal also is leaving. He’s another of Chicago’s notable voices, having been a media columnist, a business columnist and a sports columnist.

In a Facebook post, Rosenthal said it was a “tough decision.” He added, “The Tribune will continue changing in its bid to endure, as will I.

But I have concluded the changes I need to make will be achieved more efficiently away from the evolving paper. I will miss it greatly, I’m sure.”

Greg Pratt, a Tribune reporter and guild president, told the Tribune that three union members applied for the buyout but were denied. The union hopes those cases will be reconsidered. Pratt added that after the buyouts, the guild will represent more than 80 newsroom employees.

Pratt told the Tribune, “We are sad to be losing outstanding journalists at the Chicago Tribune but we respect and honor those who are leaving. It’s important to know that outstanding journalists are going to stick around, too, and we will continue doing vital work for our readers.”

I asked my colleague Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst, for his thoughts, and he told me, “Departures at the Chicago Tribune were to be expected after the Alden takeover, but this sounds like a wipeout of the most popular columnists and other high profile journalists. That can’t be good for audience retention.”

And it’s awful for one of the great American newspapers.

Former Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, who is on Poynter’s board of trustees, tweeted, “The scale of talent leaving the Chicago Tribune is staggering. Combined with January buyouts, a hedge fund’s takeover is driving out irreplaceable experience, Pulitzer winners among them. Incalculable loss for Chicago. If you live in a city with a local paper, take care of it.”

Chicago media writer Robert Feder wrote, “Make no mistake: Chicago’s business and philanthropic communities allowed this to happen to a vital public trust despite pleas from many quarters. Epic fail.

Also, check out Julie Reynolds’ piece for Nieman Lab: “Alden Global Capital and Tribune’s board are dancing at the edge of the law.”

Those involved in Khashoggi murder received training in US

Here’s quite the stunning paragraph from The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes and Michael LaForgia:

“Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement.”

The Times reported that the training was provided by Tier 1 Group, an Arkansas-based security company owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The Times also reported that there is no evidence that U.S. officials or Tier 1 Group executives knew what activities those trained were involved in.

“But,” the Times wrote, “the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing of a journalist shows how intensely intertwined the United States has become with an autocratic nation. It also underscores the perils of military partnerships with repressive governments and demonstrates how little oversight exists for those forces after they return home.”

What a gift

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

The New York Times announced a new “gift articles” program Tuesday.  Subscribers can share, for free, up to 10 articles a month with non-subscribers. Gift articles will not count against the monthly limit that non-subscribers can read before they hit the paywall.

Currently, unregistered recipients will be given a skippable prompt to register. That would provide the Times with an email or other contact information to which it can send sample newsletters or other subscription solicitations.

That is important strategically to the company. CEO Meredith Kopit-Levien said in the Times’ most recent quarterly earnings report that besides more than 7 million paying subscribers, it now has roughly 100 million registered users. Each is a prospect for eventually becoming a paid digital subscriber, and the company is looking for more.

The Washington Post has a similar benefit, allowing subscribers to send a one-month free pass to a friend, who is then asked to register with an email address.

Jemele Hill’s next big move

Jemele Hill. (Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

Jemele Hill’s media star (and influence) keeps rising. She is launching a podcast network with Spotify that will focus on Black women and amplify the voices of Black women. It will be called “The Unbothered Network” — named after Hill’s podcast “Jemele Hill is Unbothered,” which was renewed for a third season on Tuesday.

In a statement, Hill said, “The Unbothered Network is more than just a content hub, it’s a space where Black women can hopefully see their full selves. There’s so much about the lives of Black women that haven’t been fully explored, and so many of our stories have either been dismissed or overlooked. I’m also proud of this network because it not only centers Black women, but it’s also run by Black women. We can’t empower Black women if we’re not positioning them in leadership roles.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s J. Clara Chan has the scoop.

Chan wrote, “Other executives leading The Unbothered Network include the journalist Christina M. Tapper, the former deputy editor of Medium’s ZORA publication, and the producer Rich Boerner, who previously served as the SVP of Programming and Operations at Cadence13. Tapper will serve as executive producer and head of content, while Boerner will be head of production.”

In a follow-up tweet to her announcement, Hill tweeted, “To expand on the podcast network announcement, it was a non-negotiable for me that black women be put in position to direct all content decisions. So beyond thrilled that the brilliant @Tapperific is leading our efforts to center black women.”

Hill’s influence just keeps growing since leaving ESPN in 2018. The final years of her ESPN career were noteworthy not only because she, along with Michael Smith, was elevated to host of ESPN’s 6 p.m. “SportsCenter,” but she had an ongoing feud with President Donald Trump and the Trump White House. Hill has been highly critical of Trump, calling him a “white supremacist.” Trump once claimed in a tweet that ESPN’s ratings had “tanked” and mentioned Hill by name as a reason why.

Hill became a polarizing figure among ESPN viewers. Some of ESPN’s audience was turned off by Hill’s politics, even though Hill rarely actually talked politics on the air.

Hill left ESPN, saying at the time that the relationship with the network had been fruitful and good, but had “run its course.” She joined The Atlantic as a staff writer and then started her highly interesting and entertaining podcast.

It would seem Hill’s career is going just fine.

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Scully leaves C-SPAN

Steve Scully, who has been with C-SPAN since 1990, is leaving the network to join the Bipartisan Policy Center as senior vice president of communications. Axios’ Sara Fischer was the first to report the news.

Scully has been C-SPAN’s political director and, possibly, its most familiar on-air host. For three decades, Scully has had a solid career. However, he did run into controversy last year. He was scheduled to host the second presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but then was suspended by C-SPAN after initially lying about his Twitter account being hacked. Scully had sent a tweet to former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci about Trump.

The debate ended up being canceled anyway because Trump contracted COVID-19.

The Hill for sale?

Fischer had another beefy scoop Tuesday: The Hill, the Washington, D.C.-based publication that covers politics, is being shopped by owner Jimmy Finkelstein. Fischer reports it held recent talks with broadcasting’s Nexstar Media Group.

Fischer writes, “The Hill brings in over $20 million in annual revenue. Most of that revenue comes from digital advertising and branded content.” She also writes, “Two sources say revenues and profits right now are historically high for the outlet. One source notes that there’s been an aggressive focus on revenue for the past year as sale talks have become more serious.”

Wait, one more …

Wow, Fischer wasn’t done. Here’s another scoop:  Quartz co-founders Kevin Delaney and Jay Lauf are teaming up with The New York Times’ Erin Grau to launch a new media and services company. Named “Charter,” it will center around the future of work. Fischer reports it will have three main revenue streams: sponsorships, subscriptions and services.

Fischer writes that the company has been called “Reset Work” up until now and has a free newsletter with 20,000 subscribers. The newsletter, Fischer writes, “tracks trends and provides analysis on workplace issues pegged to the pandemic and its recovery.”

Now, with a new name, it will ramp up its company.

Best headline … ever?

Check out this headline from The New York Times on a story about moray eels:

“When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray.”

As The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted, “Someone should win a Pulitzer for this headline.”

And that theme was carried throughout the story on the photo captions:

“When an eel wants a squid that’s on land — god forbid! — that’s a moray.”

“If the squid is too flat, there’s no problem with that, that’s a moray.”

“If the squid is so big, it still eats like a pig, that’s a moray.”

Credit for the headline goes to Times science fellow Sabrina Imbler, who also wrote the story, with assistance from Michael Roston, who is the Times’ senior staff editor for the science section.

Big news from the NFL

Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib made history this week, becoming the first active NFL player to announce he is gay. Nassib made the announcement in a video posted on Instagram.

“What’s up, people?” Nassib posted. “I’m at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.”

Nassib also announced he is donating $100,000 to The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to the LGBTQ+ community.

Here are a couple of stories about Nassib following his announcement:

Behar crosses the line

Most reaction to Nassib’s announcement was positive. According to Fanatics, Nassib’s No. 94 Raiders jersey was the top-selling NFL item in the 24 hours after his announcement.

Sadly, someone did voice a juvenile joke. It’s just surprising that it was delivered on, of all places, “The View.” In an attempt to be funny, co-host Joy Behar said something wildly inappropriate that was nowhere close to funny. I won’t repeat the joke, but you can see it here. Of the other four co-hosts, only Meghan McCain seemed bothered by Behar’s comment.

Behar must have known what she said was wrong because she later said on air, “That inappropriate joke I made, for daytime television, scratch it, make believe I never said it.”

That comment was inappropriate not only for daytime television, but at any time and anywhere. And, sorry Joy, you can’t just wish it away by saying, “make believe I never said it.” That’s not how it works.

It was a bad comment and a really lousy apology, particularly when you consider that she never actually apologized.

Media tidbits

ABC “World News Tonight” host David Muir. (Courtesy: ABC News)

  • For the second week in a row, ABC’s “World News Tonight” was the most-watched show on all of TV. Not just the most-watched news show, the most-watched TV show. Yes, it’s the summer, when TV viewing is typically down. Still, it averaged 7.7 million viewers for the week and each of the newscasts added up to be the top five telecasts of the week. Tuesday’s newscast — which anchor David Muir hosted from Geneva ahead of the Joe Biden-Vladimir Putin meeting — was the top show of the week with 8.046 million viewers.
  • The Washington Post has named Renita Jablonski as director of audio. She joins the Post from Spotify, where she had been an editorial lead on Gimlet’s new formats team. She also spent nine years at NPR.
  • Another announcement from The Washington Post. Emmanuel Felton will join The Post’s America desk as its race and ethnicity reporter. He joins the Post from BuzzFeed News.
  • Media piece from The Atlantic’s David Frum with “Remember Who Tucker Carlson Is.”

Hot type

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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