May 14, 2021

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

A bipartisan group of legislators reintroduced the Future of Local News Act Thursday. If passed, the bill would create a 13-member committee to study the state of local journalism and recommend to Congress actions to support the industry.

The bill’s co-sponsors include Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas). Legislators first introduced the bill in September.

Local newspapers have struggled for years as advertising revenue dried up and large companies and hedge funds consolidated papers. Research from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media found that the U.S. has lost more than 2,100 local print outlets since 2004, and more than half of all newspapers have changed owners in the past decade.

The bill aims to create a diverse committee of industry experts from across the country with experience in various areas including print, digital and broadcast. That committee would then have one year to research issues and solutions to the local journalism crisis before submitting a report to Congress with their findings and recommendations.

The bill has been endorsed by major journalism organizations including PEN America, the Society of Professional Journalists, Local Independent Online News Publishers and the NewsGuild.

A new tactic to stop Alden’s takeover of Tribune

The NewsGuild has been leading the opposition to hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s bid to acquire Tribune Publishing. On Thursday, it unveiled a new strategy: If Tribune shareholders do not vote down the offer outright at a special meeting May 21, they will perhaps delay consideration.

That would give the company a window to keep operating as is and show strong digital subscription growth and operating profit through the year, as CEO Terry Jimenez promised in a recent quarterly earnings report. Plus it would allow more time for Maryland investor Stewart Bainum Jr. — or someone else — to put together a superior bid to Alden’s.

The delay tactic was broached in a webinar Thursday at noon and repeated in a letter to shareholders filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The letter concludes:

There are examples across the country of newspapers pursuing a business strategy that explicitly enhances the public service mission of the newsroom and charts a sustainable future. This strategy, undertaken only after the newspaper has been purchased by local, civic-minded investors, shows great potential to stabilize the business model and expand news coverage after years of declines.

One such investor (Bainum) has offered the board a proposal to do just that for Tribune newspapers across the country. We fully support this effort, and urge the board to give this prospective buyer, or others like him, more time to prepare a bid that promises to yield a better future for our communities.

During the webinar, a reporter who works for the Alden-owned East Bay Times offered a scathing assessment. George Kelly was part of a team that won a 2017 breaking news Pulitzer Prize for coverage of an Oakland warehouse party fire that killed 36.

These days, when he works, Kelly said, “I feel like I live with ghosts. The people I used to work with aren’t there. Either they have been laid off or took early retirement. … Our copy and design desk was moved to Southern California a week after the Pulitzer. … There’s no way to make Alden a responsible steward (of newspaper journalism).”

More Kornacki, more khakis?

MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, shown here breaking down the NFL playoff picture. (Courtesy: NBC News)

NBC News and MSNBC political correspondent Steve Kornacki will soon develop, produce and host a game show, Stephen Battaglio reports for the Los Angeles Times.

Kornacki earned widespread fame during the 2020 presidential election when it seemed like he stayed up for five days straight to poke and prod at interactive big board maps as the country awaited election results. He has since assessed playoff scenarios during “Sunday Night Football” and helped the network cover the Kentucky Derby.

“A fan of ‘Sale of the Century’ — a fast-paced show that mixed quiz questions with bargaining and shopping — Kornacki loves the genre,” Battaglio writes. “He regularly donned a loud sports jacket for a ’70s-style game-show bit on the weekend MSNBC show he hosted several years ago, offering guests a prize of a $50 gift certificate redeemable at a food cart near Rockefeller Plaza.”

MinnPost staff unionize

The latest newsroom to join the wave of media unionization is MinnPost, a nonprofit outlet covering the state of Minnesota.

Staff announced Thursday that they were forming the MinnPost Union, which has received unanimous support from eligible workers, including reporters, business and support staff. Managers at MinnPost have already voluntarily recognized the union.

In a tweet, the union wrote that it is seeking more competitive salaries and benefits and that it wishes to give employees a say in decisions made by the outlet’s leadership. MinnPost Union will be a unit of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, which is part of the NewsGuild.

The NewsGuild has launched union drives in dozens of newsrooms over the past year. Earlier this month, staff at The Appeal; the New York Daily News; and Gannett-owned New Jersey publications the Bergen Record, the Daily Record and the NJ Herald all successfully unionized. Journalists at The Kansas City Star also announced their own union campaign.

Knight Foundation pledges $3 million to support AI at local news organizations

The Knight Foundation, a longtime funder of technology efforts in newsrooms and journalism instruction, has announced $3 million in grants to encourage the adoption of artificial intelligence in local news organizations.

The grants will go to The Associated Press and other organizations who will, in turn, offer training to local news outlets. Paul Cheung, Knight’s director for journalism and technology innovation, wrote in a release,   “Lacking the knowledge to approach the use of AI as part of a coherent plan and strategy, adoption of AI technologies at local news organizations remains nascent and experimental.”

The money can be applied both to journalism and to operations.

Cheung used to work at the AP, which introduced AI applications several years ago, among other things letting machines produce routine stories on game results.

Uplifting and immersive storytelling

End your workweek with this immersive project from The New York Times. “Hear a Harlem Choir Rehearse Again” includes an immersive visual and audio experience as readers learn about how Bethel Gospel Assembly found a way to make music together during the pandemic.

The project includes a 3D model of the sanctuary that users can explore while listening to the choir rehearse.

It’s part of a series from the Times called “From Here” that allows viewers to travel through China Town to see how it’s changed, imagine New York City streets without cars and explore the traditions of Carnival.

Media tidbits

  • Tonight’s PBS “Washington Week” focuses on the vote to remove Rep. Liz Cheney from Republican House leadership and her reiterated criticisms of former President Donald Trump’s election lies. The lineup features Yamiche Alcindor on her second show as moderator, along with panelists Eugene Daniels from Politico, Kasie Hunt from NBC News, Susan Page from USA Today, and Manu Raju from CNN. “Washington Week” airs at 8 p.m. on most local PBS stations.
  • United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking wrapped up Thursday. The Poynter- and PolitiFact-led event featured interviews with CNN’s Brian Stelter, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Sen. Mark Warner and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Read summaries of each day by following the links.
  • Poynter’s MediaWise made NBC News on Wednesday when “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt spotlighted media literacy projects, including MediaWise. Holt is a MediaWise ambassador, and also highlighted work to help older adults navigate information with MediaWise for Seniors.

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

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