May 10, 2021

Poynter Report author Tom Jones is on vacation this week and will return next Monday. Today’s Poynter Report was compiled by Rick Edmonds and Ren LaForme.

A tough quarter at Gannett

Gannett — the nation’s largest newspaper company with 250-plus dailies, about a fifth of the total — has seen revenues hammered as a result of the pandemic recession.

Reporting first-quarter 2021 results, the company said that audience revenues on a same property basis were down 12.9% compared to the same quarter a year ago. Print advertising was down 24.9% and digital advertising and marketing service revenues off 10.4%.

CEO Mike Reed reiterated his goal to grow paid digital-only subscriptions from 1.2 million now to 10 million over five years. He also acknowledged, as we reported earlier, that the company is beginning to test a paid system for premium articles on USA Today’s digital site, which has been free.

Reed said that the company is additionally hoping to boost revenue with a sports betting site under development.

The Justice Department seized Post reporters’ phone records

This May 4, 2021, photo shows a sign outside the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building in Washington. The Trump Justice Department secretly seized the phone records of three Washington Post reporters who covered the federal investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign, the newspaper said Friday, May 7. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Three Washington Post journalists who reported on Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in the early months of the Trump presidency were subjects of a Justice Department investigation over their work.

The Post reported Friday that the Justice Department “secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records.”

“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” said acting executive editor Cameron Barr. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

Washingtonian staff rebuked their CEO

Washingtonian staff refused to publish Friday after their CEO wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post about returning to the workplace. The staff tweeted, en masse:

“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor. We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today.”

The original headline on Merrill’s op-ed read, “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office.” Staffers said the opinion piece read like a “public threat” to their livelihoods.

Merrill later issued a statement: “Washingtonian embraces a culture in which employees are able to express themselves openly. I value each member of our team not only on a professional level but on a personal one as well. I could not be more proud of their work and achievements under the incredibly difficult circumstances of the past year. I have assured our team that there will be no changes to benefits or employee status. I am sorry if the op-ed made it appear like anything else.”

Appropriately enough, Erik Wemple reported on the ordeal in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

Two questions for Tucker

Appearing on CNN Newsroom Sunday, CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner called Fox News host Tucker Carlson a “saboteur” and said, “Every night, he has a million questions about this vaccine. Somehow, magically, he has no one on his show who can answer these questions.”

Carlson has been raising skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccines for weeks and has been criticized for “dangerous” and “reckless” comments that infer the vaccines aren’t safe.

Reiner followed up his comments with two questions of his own for Carlson:

“No. 1, have you been vaccinated? And No. 2, why won’t you tell your audience whether you’ve been vaccinated? I’m tired of his nonsense.”

United Facts of America starts today

Last year was a tough one for everyone, including the facts. This week, PolitiFact and Poynter are hosting United Facts of America, “a celebration of fact-checking featuring some of the most important voices in media, health care, politics and technology.

The 10 hours of programs spread across the next four days will feature special guests Christiane Amanpour, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Sen. Mark Warner, Brian Stelter, Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi and more.

If you can’t join us live, we’ll be providing recaps of some of the sessions each day on Poynter.org.

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

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Correction: Gannett aims to grow paid digital subscriptions from 1.2 million now to 10 million over five years, not 19 million. 

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  • Well, correcting Gannett’s projection of 19 million digital-only subscribers to 10 million in 5 years makes it only slightly less comical. It’s not going to happen and I suspect that top Gannett executives privately think it’s not going to happen. But you have to tell Wall Street something. You can smell Gannett’s desperation from its move into sports gambling, which is more-or-less like opening a brothel.