- America’s weird way of picking a leader
The Republicans debate in Las Vegas tonight in a maniacally-marketed CNN production that reminds how we are apparently the only country that lets presidential debates be profit-making gambits for media who air them. It’s the political journalism version of universities screwing athletes by getting rich off them and not giving them a dime. Ad rates soar amid big ratings that are partly a function of the Trump factor but also ginned up by 24/7 commercials for weeks.
Last night I asked Stuart Stevens, the GOP consultant and author who was chief strategist for Mitt Romney in 2012, about the media role. His take: “Televised primary debates probably started with the best of intentions but have now become this exercise in corporate marketing and branding which affords the sponsors the opportunity to charge premium rates for commercials. No other country does it this way and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that our uniqueness is a positive. Debates should be held by serious organizations and covered by the news media — like we do everything else in politics and news. We don’t have the ‘X Network sponsored Bus Tour of Iowa’ or the ‘Y sponsored Labor Day parade for Candidate Z.’ Nor should we. There is no need to have a major sponsor for these debates. Put it on Amazon or Netflix and C-SPAN if the news organizations don’t want to run it. The current model is a dated model that has outlived its usefulness and morphed into something that has precious little to do with the concept of actual debates.” But just wait for those big, self-justifying ratings.
- S.I.’s Sportsperson of the Year, explained
It’s Serena Williams, slouched on a throne, a seeming no-brainer for both the magazine and the world’s dominant tennis player. But wait. “Some people are arguing that the award should have gone to a horse,” namely Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. “This is slightly less ridiculous than it sounds, but only slightly. The magazine seems to have been seriously considering the possibility of giving a horse its Sportsperson of the Year award, breaking with decades of tradition of giving it only to human beings.” (Vox)
- Fastest-growing cable network
“Boosted by the broadcast of its first-ever primary debate, Fox Business Network will go down as the fastest-growing cable network in 2015.” (Adweek) But is CNBC hegemony really imperiled for the Wall Street crowd? Ah, don’t bet on that necessarily.
- Who’s got the most journalists behind bars?
It’s China with Egypt and Turkey rising fast. While the overall numbers actually “declined modestly” from records the last three years, there were 199 in prison so far in 2015. “Perhaps nowhere has the climate for the press deteriorated more rapidly than in Egypt, now the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide.” (CPJ) Online journalists comprised the majority of imprisoned correspondents. (Poynter)
- “Meet the Press” partners with PolitiFact
It says something about the state of journalism that a news organization need herald that it’s going to do fact-checking. CNN’s “State of the Union” previously announced a deal with FactCheck.org. Now the NBC Sunday stalwart announces lots of campaign help from PolitiFact, a project of Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times. Some think this is important and worthy. (Poynter) Some might demur, including NBC’s MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow, who last year called “self-proclaimed but terrible fact-checkers” like PolitiFact “a modern plague in the news business in this country.” (MSNBC) Hmmm. The modern plague might be declining civic engagement twinned with public lack of interest in serious news. Throw in what appears to be a decline in fact-checking in journalism, publishing and elsewhere (see how many copy editors who’ve taken buyouts or were victims of layoffs have been replaced), and you might have a problem that nobody’s screaming about.
- CBS’ digital revenues
CBS News is luring higher prices for advertising on some digital offerings than it lures for broadcast news content, CBS News President David Rhodes said at a New York forum. “That’s counter-intuitive when you think about (analogies that are) made to other kinds of news presentation, where you think that when something goes digital it gets cheaper,” he said, “When our offering has gone digital, it actually has become more expensive.” (TVNewsCheck)
- CPB funds a regional news gambit
With $715,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, seven southern Illinois public radio and TV stations are assembling a regional news operation. (Chicago Tribune) It will be called Illinois Newsroom and use eight journalists to mostly cover politics, education, health and the environment. They may also help various national shows such as “PBS NewsHour” and NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Meanwhile, POLITICO has set up shop in Chicago with, so far, a one-person operation and aims to grab readers of state politics, too. Their smart folks apparently have more to come.
- Post vs. Times online duel
If you think it’s relevant, “The Washington Post widened its lead over The New York Times in November, raking in 71.6 million U.S. visitors compared to the Times’ 68.8 million according to comScore data. Last month, the Washington Post narrowly edged the Times (66.9 million to 65.8 million) for the first time in its history as it reshapes its online presence.” (Digiday)
- Not in the driver’s seat
The U.S. Supreme Court turned down without explanation a Chicago Sun-Times attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by five Chicago police officers involving publication of information obtained from their state driver’s licenses. (Poynter) It’s a parenthetical dispute tied to another notorious case of police conduct disclosed by the paper; this stemming from cops not pursuing a case against the then-mayor’s nephew after a late-night drunken altercation in which a 21-year-old died (ultimately the nephew pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and did 60 days in prison). The paper raised doubts about the use of the cops, who physically resembled the nephew in some ways, as “fillers” in a lineup that played a role in initially not charging him with a crime. A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that declined to dismiss the cops’ suit alleging the Sun-Times violated a federal law by publishing identifying details obtained from the licenses. Perusal of the decision by a three-judge panel (one of whom, William Bauer, is still going strong at age 89) shows it believed the First Amendment was an insufficient defense. But it also tied that conclusion to its view that the specifics taken from the licenses were largely irrelevant because the paper also published (lawfully) a picture of the lineup. (7th Circuit) Bottom line: the whole matter returns to a trial court and the paper can expect more legal bills.
- A lesson for Vegas
The publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal might note that The Times-News of Erie, Pennsylvania was sold and, yes, actually told the world who bought it. It’s New Media Investment Group, Inc., formerly Gatehouse Media, which has more papers than anybody. (Poynter) The Las Vegas paper announced its purchase last week but won’t say who’s the money behind that deal, only some blather about them being good people who won’t mess with the paper. That’s pissing off employees, who started a Twitter campaign to somehow get the new guys to come clean. (The Huffington Post) Erie’s website ran a wire story about its sale, with the name off the buyer. And, when I clicked on its site, it immediately thanked me “for reading GoErie.com. You have 4999 more free views. Subscribe now for just $0.99/month!” Well, for a cheapskate,those 4,999 freebies could be a lure.
- Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
Roy Sekoff is leaving The Huffington Post. He is a president and chief creative officer of HuffPost studios. (POLITICO Media) | Tyler Bleszinski is leaving Vox Media. He is a co-founders of SB Nation. (POLITICO Media) | Emma Dumain will be The (Charleston, South Carolina) Post and Courier’s D.C. correspondent. She is a reporter at Roll Call. (@Emma_Dumain) | Cory Haik will be chief strategy officer at Mic. She is executive director of emerging news products at The Washington Post. (Poynter) | Job of the day: CNN is hiring a senior mobile editor. Get your resumes in! (CNN) | Send Ben your job moves: firstname.lastname@example.org.