June 30, 2021

Former President Donald Trump always said he was the best thing to ever happen to the media.

Now that he is gone — well, sort of gone — can we say that he was right?

Axios’ Sara Fischer and Neal Rothschild write, “In the months since former President Trump left office, news audiences have plunged — and publishers who rely on partisan warfare have taken an especially big hit.”

While partisan TV is nothing new (Fox News and MSNBC and the like all were going strong well before Trump arrived on the scene), it certainly ramped up over the past four years. But with Trump out of the White House and the temperature lowered just a bit, it does appear news outlets from all sides are losing audience.

Fischer and Rothschild note that conservative outlets such as Newsmax and The Federalist saw a traffic drop of 44% from February through May compared to the previous six months. More liberal outlets, such as Mother Jones and Raw Story, are down 27%. And mainstream media publishers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Reuters have dropped 18%.

Fischer and Rothschild write, “Opposition media traditionally relies on traffic booms when a new party takes office, but right-wing outlets have seen some of the most precipitous declines in readership since a Democratic president took office.”

The hope for such outlets is that traffic will pick back up as we get closer to the 2022 midterm elections.

Meanwhile, Politico Magazine’s Katelyn Fossett had an interesting roundtable discussion with four women running Washington newsrooms. Fossett asked about maintaining audience interest in the post-Trump era.

Swati Sharma, editor-in-chief of Vox, told Fossett, “I’m not worried. I see it as a huge opportunity because we can go back to, you know, all the stories that we wanted to cover the last four years and didn’t have time for. And so I just see it as a huge opportunity to really cover inequality, poverty, housing, health care. We have opportunities to do just even more great journalism.”

Elisabeth Bumiller, Washington bureau chief at The New York Times, made a good point when she noted that, yes, traffic is down compared to 2020, but not compared to 2019.

“2020 was an extraordinary year,” Bumiller said.

With the election, COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd, 2020 was one of the busiest years in news that we’ve ever had.

Bumiller said, “… it’s both easier and more difficult now. Easier in that every day isn’t an all-out panic like it would go on for months on end during the Trump administration. But also stories aren’t falling off the trees anymore. So we’ve got a much bigger focus on policy with the Biden administration, on foreign policy, on his giant domestic agenda, on pandemic relief.”

Social media pitfalls

Be sure to check out Fossett’s insightful conversation with some of Washington’s newsroom leaders, including talking about women in leadership positions.

Another of the more interesting topics to come out of that discussion was the basis for Erik Wemple’s latest piece in The Washington Post: “‘I don’t see what the solution is here’: New York Times editor speaks truth about social media.”

Newsrooms continue to struggle with vague social media policies that often leave their journalists confused as to what they can and cannot tweet or post online. And then editors are left to judge each case individually. The most recent controversy involved an Associated Press reporter in Arizona losing her job supposedly because she violated the AP’s social media policy by tweeting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Newsrooms often want their reporters to use social media to promote their work, but then get squeamish if they feel the reporters go too far expressing their opinions.

Bumiller said the danger comes from there being no editor between what a journalist types and what ends up online for all the world to read.

“And reporters,” Bumiller said, “despite how many times they are told, ‘Do not tweet anything out that you would not see in The New York Times,’ they’re human beings. They don’t have editors. It’s late at night. They’re angry. They’re upset. They’re excited. They tweet out things that are not appropriate. And inevitably, I get the call. I mean, I can’t possibly have the time to police it, but I get a call from New York saying, ‘Would you please talk to so-and-so? You’ve got to talk to so-and-so.’ There’s about three or four people. And I talk to them and they say, ‘We promise never to do it again.’”

As Wemple suggests, there are a couple of ways to solve this whole problem. One is to ban journalists from using social media. The other is to let audiences know that journalists do not represent their news outlets when they use social media.

But, as Wemple notes, neither is really a realistic solution. Journalists who use social media responsibly should not be punished and audiences are not going to separate journalists from the organizations they work for.

“So Bumiller’s right — there’s no solution at hand,” Wemple writes. “Social media guidelines appear to have a secure future in tyrannizing editors and reporters.”


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Big day in North Carolina

Demonstrators gathered last week on the University of North Carolina campus to demand that the university offer tenure to award-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. (AP Photo/Jonathan Drew)

All eyes are on the University of North Carolina today as the school’s board of trustees will hold a special meeting, where it is expected to decide whether or not to grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from The New York Times. Hannah-Jones also was the driving force behind The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project,” which is at the heart of the tenure debate.

Hannah-Jones, through her legal team, has said she would not join UNC’s faculty unless she was granted tenure. Hannah-Jones was scheduled to start Thursday as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

But backlash from conservatives, as well as from Walter Hussman Jr., the publisher of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette whose name is on the school because of a $25 million donation, seems to have slammed the brakes on Hannah-Jones getting tenure.

Hannah-Jones has received support from the school’s dean, much of its faculty, provost and chancellor, as well as many students.

And yet today remains a pivotal day for the school. As an outsider looking in, I find it hard to imagine Hannah-Jones isn’t already disappointed and disillusioned in how her alma mater has handled all this and will remain so no matter what happens today. (Hannah-Jones earned a master’s degree from the university’s journalism school in 2003.)

In addition, a vote to not grant Hannah-Jones tenure almost certainly will lead to backlash against the school from its own staff, students and, most of all, potential donors.

In Vogue

Once again, the first lady will be on the cover of Vogue. Dr. Jill Biden is going to be on the August issue, which goes on sale July 20. Biden was photographed by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. According to CNN’s Kate Bennett, Biden is wearing a “navy, floral Oscar de la Renta dress for the cover shot, leaning on the balcony overlooking the South Lawn.”

The cover story (which is already online) is written by Jonathan Van Meter. In the piece, Biden told Van Meter, “When I became second lady — and there was so much I wanted to do — I always said, ‘I will never waste this platform,’ … And now I have a bigger platform and I feel every day, like …. what could I give up? That I would want to give up? Nothing.”

Biden is the first first lady to be on the cover since Michelle Obama. And that’s really part of the news: Dr. Biden is doing something the previous first lady did not.

Vogue skipped over Melania Trump — something that didn’t go unnoticed by former President Donald Trump. Last December, before he was kicked off Twitter, Trump tweeted, “The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years.”

Mrs. Trump was on the cover of Vogue in 2005, right after she married Trump. But that was well before she became first lady.

Conspiracies live

Did you see Donie O’Sullivan’s report on CNN from the Trump rally last weekend in Ohio?

As he does so effectively, O’Sullivan talked to Trump supporters. And, as has become all too familiar, many of those in attendance are still not giving up on the 2020 election.

One woman told him, “He didn’t lose, I know he didn’t lose.” Another wore a “Trump Won” shirt.

But there were more frightening responses. One Trump supporter told O’Sullivan that he “absolutely” believed the election would be overturned, maybe as soon as August.

“He’s coming back soon, and you guys are going down,” the man said. “The military already knows it was a fraud. He won by over 80%.”

When O’Sullivan asked what would happen if Trump doesn’t come back to the White House this summer, the man said, “We’re going to be in a civil war because the militia will be taking over.”

There’s plenty more to see in the report — if you can stand to see it.

Christie’s new book

Former New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has a new book coming out this fall. “Republican Rescue: Saving the Party from Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden” is due out in November.

It’s not lost on critics that Christie is writing a book about rescuing the Republican Party from truth deniers and conspiracy theorists that became somewhat of a staple under former President Trump when Christie was one of the first prominent Republicans to endorse Trump for president.

The Associated Press’ Hillel Italie has more on Christie’s book.

ESPN’s NHL team

ESPN’s NHL broadcasters for next season. (Courtesy: ESPN)

ESPN, which will again start airing the NHL next season, has announced its announcing team for next season.

Some are longtime ESPN personalities with previous hockey ties, such as Steve Levy (lead studio host), John Buccigross (play-by-play), Barry Melrose (studio analyst) and Linda Cohn (studio host).

Veteran Sean McDonough will be the lead play-by-play announcer, but other games will be called by Bob Wischusen and Leah Hextall, among others. Hall of Famers Mark Messier and Chris Chelios are among two of the most recent hires. Both will be analysts, along with Ray Ferraro, Brian Boucher, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Kevin Weekes, Ryan Callahan, A.J. Mleczko, Rick DiPietro and Hilary Knight. Reporting duties will be handled by ESPN veteran hockey reporters Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, and newcomer Blake Bolden.

Meanwhile, on ESPN Deportes, Kenneth Garay and Eitán Benezra will handle play-by-play commentary with Carlos Rossell and Antonio Valle as analysts.

In a statement, chairman of ESPN and Sports Content Jimmy Pitaro said, “This new and groundbreaking lineup will bring the NHL to an expanding legion of passionate fans. We set out to put together a roster that would excite, engage and educate the entire range of fans — from diehard to casual — while inspiring the next generation. With this lineup, we believe we have done just that. We could not be more excited to welcome this talented and diverse group to the ESPN hockey family.”

Many on social media were upset that Gary Thorne, longtime NHL announcer when ESPN used to air NHL games, was not among the list of broadcasters.

Turner also will carry NHL games starting next season. It has already announced some of its announcers, including Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Wayne Gretzky.

Fallen Journalists Memorial news

The Annenberg Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will provide a total of $6 million in grants to support the early stages of the Fallen Journalists Memorial. Last December, Congress passed a law to give the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation the go-ahead to build a memorial on federal land in Washington, D.C.

The grant money will help the foundation select a site, as well as design and begin construction. It also will go toward educational programming.

In a statement, Barbara Cochran, president of the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation, said, “These funds will be instrumental as we work to build support for and erect a permanent memorial in Washington that demonstrates how our country values a free press, honors the sacrifices of journalists, and supports the family, friends and colleagues of the fallen.”

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