Billionaires have had a pretty good pandemic. There are more of them than there were a year ago, even as the crisis has exacerbated inequality. But scrutiny has followed these ballooning fortunes. Policymakers are debating new taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Even their philanthropy has come under increasing criticism as an exercise of power as much as generosity.One arena in which the billionaires can still win plaudits as civic-minded saviors is buying the metropolitan daily newspaper.The local business leader might not have seemed like such a salvation a quarter century ago, before Craigslist, Google and Facebook began …
Tribune Publishing, the newspaper chain that includes The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, said on Monday that it had begun serious discussions about a sale of the company to a pair of bidders who came through with an offer nearly two months after it agreed to sell itself to Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund.The new bid, which is for more than the amount offered by Alden, was made on Thursday by Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a Maryland hotel magnate, and Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who made his fortune as a …
A deal that would reshape the American newspaper industry has run into complications just one month after an agreement was reached, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. As a result, the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital may have to fend off a new suitor for Tribune Publishing, the chain that owns major metropolitan dailies across the country, including The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, the people said.On Feb. 16, Alden, the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, with a 32 percent stake, reached an agreement to buy the rest of the chain in …
The newspaper business has struggled for most of the 21st century as the rise of digital media has cut deeply into the revenue once generated by print advertising and newsstand sales. At the same time, Facebook and Google have grabbed a huge chunk of digital ad revenue, effectively blocking the industry from one of its traditional sources of cash.Roughly a quarter of the newspapers in the United States, most of them weeklies, were shut down between 2004 and 2019, while about 50 percent of newspaper jobs were eliminated. Hedge funds, however, see newspapers as a potential bargain. With a strict management style …
Vox, the flagship site of Vox Media, has two high-level openings: editor in chief and senior vice president. Both jobs are held by Lauren Williams, one of relatively few Black women to have led a large, general-interest media outlet. In November, she announced that she was leaving for a start-up, Capital B, a site aimed at Black communities nationwide. Vox Media has narrowed its search for the next Vox editor to three finalists, said two people with knowledge of the matter, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.HuffPost is not likely to name its next editor until the …
The media mogul Rupert Murdoch denounced an “awful woke orthodoxy” and declared, “I’m far from done,” while accepting a lifetime achievement award this weekend.Mr. Murdoch, 89, made the remarks in a prerecorded video shown on Saturday during a virtual event for the United Kingdom nonprofit that honored him, the Australia Day Foundation. The video was shared on the website of The Herald Sun, a newspaper in Melbourne owned by Mr. Murdoch.The video is noteworthy because Mr. Murdoch, despite exerting enormous influence over the global media landscape as the executive chairman of News Corp, has been relatively quiet publicly …
Since Alden acquired its 32 percent stake in Tribune, the hard times have continued. The company has offered buyouts and closed several newsrooms while trying to endure the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on an already distressed industry.In August, after most newspaper employees had worked remotely for months, Tribune announced that it was permanently closing the newsroom of The Daily News. That announcement was quickly followed by the company’s shuttering of the physical newsrooms of The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.; The Orlando Sentinel; The Carroll County Times in Westminster, Md.; and The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. In …
Last month The New York Post called President Trump “an invincible hero, who not only survived every dirty trick the Democrats threw at him, but the Chinese virus as well.” Then it published front-page articles trying to link the contents of a laptop said to belong to Hunter Biden to his father, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
On Thursday, in a sudden about-face, Rupert Murdoch’s scrappy tabloid published two articles with a wildly different tone. One accused the president of making an “unfounded claim that political foes were trying to steal the election.” The headline on the other described Donald Trump Jr. as the “panic-stricken” author of a “clueless tweet.”
In short, the president appears to be going down — and The Post is not about to go with him.
With Mr. Trump headed toward a likely defeat, top editors at the tabloid told some staff members this week to be tougher in their coverage of him, said two Post employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
In addition to the shift in tone, there will be a change in personnel: Col Allan, the Australian tabloid wizard who was once seen in the Post newsroom wearing a Make America Great Again cap, will call an end to his career of more than 40 years at Murdoch papers in New York and Sydney.
Mr. Allan, who was The Post’s editor in chief from 2001-16, rejoined the paper as an adviser in January 2019, just as the presidential campaign was underway. Since his return, he has had a strong hand in shaping coverage, several staff members said. He confirmed his planned retirement in an email interview.
“The Post is not perfect,” Mr. Allan said. “But it articulates a view that is not obedient to liberal orthodoxy. Therefore it is dangerous. I know where I would rather be.”
On Thursday, The Post published two articles in quick succession on its website. One was a skeptical dispatch from Washington on the president’s Thursday evening White House briefing: “Downcast Trump makes baseless election fraud claims in White House address,” went the headline.
The article did not shy away from critical reporting: “President Trump repeated his unfounded claim that political foes were trying to steal the election from him during a briefing on Thursday evening as he trailed his opponent and remaining swing states were leaning toward a Joe Biden presidency.” The full article was not included in The Post’s print edition on Friday, but the parts that called the president’s claims unsubstantiated were intact.
It went online shortly after The Post published an article on its website that took aim at Mr. Trump’s eldest son, who had called on the president “to go to total war over this election” in a tweet. “Panic-stricken Donald Trump Jr. calls for ‘total war’ in clueless tweet,” read the original headline. The story noted that the younger Mr. Trump “has a long history of using Twitter to fuel conspiracy theories.” (A later version of the headline removed “panic-stricken,” and the article did not make the Friday print edition.)
A spokeswoman for The Post declined to comment for this article.
The tenor of The Post’s recent Trump coverage matched the irreverent voice the paper typically applies to Hollywood celebrities and Democratic politicians. The two employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity described instances in the last two days when top editors encouraged staff members to use a rough-and-ready tabloid voice when writing about the president.
Before Election Day — as Mr. Allan worked closely with the editor in chief, Stephen Lynch, and the top digital editor, Michelle Gotthelf — The Post used its pun-crazed front page to promote the president and knock his rivals. The headlines included “HIDIN’ BIDEN” (for an article on Mr. Biden’s campaign strategy) and “SHE’S COUP-COUP” (on Speaker Nancy Pelosi).
Several staff members said Mr. Allan had more or less run the newsroom since his return. “I have contributed little other than some minor advice,” Mr. Allan said of his work on the paper’s election coverage.
Over the last year, Mr. Allan has also worked closely with the columnist Miranda Devine, a fellow Australian who joined The Post in time for the 2020 campaign. She has been an ardent supporter of President Trump and one of Mr. Biden’s fiercest detractors. She is the one who likened Mr. Trump to “an invincible hero” as he battled Covid-19 last month. And Ms. Devine described Mr. Biden’s candidacy as “an indictment of the entire Democratic establishment that has conspired to trick America into voting for someone incapable of being president.”
Mr. Allan said he would split his time between Sydney and New York. Asked if he had mounted his last stand, he replied, “Like Custer!”
In the campaign’s final stretch, he was a driving force behind The Post’s reporting on digital data that The Post said it had obtained from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden. The paper’s first major article on the find was published on Oct. 14 amid the doubts of Post staff members. Its lead writer refused to accept a byline for his work on it.
Two main sources were President Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and his former adviser Stephen K. Bannon. The article suggested that Joseph Biden had directed American policy in Ukraine while he was vice president to enrich his son, a former board member of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company. Other news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times, examined the laptop material and determined that Joseph Biden had not manipulated American foreign policy to benefit his son.
“The Post has largely supported Trump because the paper shares his vision for free markets and the opportunity they provide to raise up all people,” Mr. Allan said. “We have also been critical of the president, particularly his tweeting. My personal view is that history will be very kind to Donald Trump.”
Yuhui Chai came to the United States from China more than a dozen years ago, drawn by the country’s vibrant democratic values. She eventually found work as a journalist, relishing the chance to pursue hard-hitting stories and ask questions in a manner often discouraged in China’s authoritarian society.
Now Ms. Chai is among more than 100 Chinese news media employees in the United States caught in a heated dispute between Beijing and Washington over the rights of foreign journalists. Unable to secure a long-term visa amid new American restrictions, she has decided to leave her job this week to return to China.
“There’s no way to plan for the future,” said Ms. Chai, a New York-based correspondent who covers technology for SunTV, a Hong Kong news outlet. “It’s very painful.”
As the United States and China fight a broader geopolitical struggle over trade, technology, military policy, the coronavirus and other issues, the news media from both countries are caught in the middle.
The American government has put new limits on the number of employees at Chinese state media organizations, effectively forcing some to leave, and shortened the length of visas for Chinese media workers. China has expelled 17 foreign journalists, including some from The New York Times, and frozen the credentials of several others.
China in particular has long harassed and surveilled foreign journalists on its soil, but the new round of tit-for-tat restrictions risks cutting off a critical source of insight into both Chinese and American societies. American journalists in China have traditionally provided an important window into the country’s opaque government.
Chinese journalists in the United States, especially those working for commercial outlets, can play a role, too. While the majority of Chinese journalists in the United States work for the Chinese government’s flagship news outlets, including Xinhua and China Central Television, others represent more commercially minded organizations that strive to produce in-depth journalism. Though they have to abide by China’s strict censorship rules, they can help balance out the Communist Party’s propaganda machine back home.
The Trump administration says a tough approach is necessary to force Beijing to ease pressure on foreign news outlets. Critics argue the new rules are undermining America’s reputation as a bastion of civil liberties and giving Beijing an excuse to crack down on foreign news outlets even more.
“It has done huge damage to the ideals of freedom of the press and free speech,” said Yik Chan Chin, a lecturer in media and communication studies at the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China. “All these concepts have been significantly damaged during this war.”
Many of the Chinese journalists affected by the new restrictions came to the United States to escape severe controls on the news media in China, where journalists are routinely harassed, punished and imprisoned. Under Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, the government has all but eliminated investigative reporting and demanded media workers show unflinching loyalty to the party.
Now, faced with visa hassles and growing scrutiny of their work in the United States, some are considering changing jobs. Others are making plans to return home, saying in interviews they are tired of being seen as spies and propaganda workers.
The Trump administration has sought to portray Chinese reporters in the United States as foreign agents, designating nine Chinese news organizations as operatives of the Chinese state. David R. Stilwell, a top State Department official, said in a speech last week that workers at state-run outlets “masquerade as legitimate news reporters when their real business is propaganda and espionage.”
Chinese reporters say that portrayal is too simple. The more commercially minded outlets have somewhat more freedom in what they write or broadcast than official government outlets like Xinhua.
“In this age of great divides, it’s more important than ever to hear from more people,” said Du Chen, a reporter for a Chinese technology news site who left the United States earlier this year and has been unable to obtain a visa to return.
Mr. Du said smaller Chinese outlets in the United States have played an important role in dispelling stereotypes. “It still is very crucial to keep these journalists on the ground in U.S.,” he said, “if the U.S. government prefers a meaningful exchange of ideas rather than propaganda wars.”
In a move seemingly aimed at avoiding an escalation, American officials said this week they would allow Chinese journalists whose visas have expired to remain in the United States and apply to have their stays extended. Many are still awaiting word from the Department of Homeland Security on renewal applications they submitted months ago.
China remains angered by a decision from the Trump administration in May to limit visas for Chinese journalists to 90 days, a significant downgrade from the open-ended visas they used to receive. The Chinese Foreign Ministry this week accused the United States of subjecting Chinese journalists to “political persecution and suppression,” and vowed to take retaliatory measures.
China has already stopped renewing press credentials for several foreign reporters still in the mainland, raising the possibility of further expulsions. State-run news outlets have suggested Beijing could seek to impose limits on foreign journalists working in Hong Kong, a former British colony that has traditionally respected press freedoms, if the situation continues to escalate.
American officials, in response, say the Chinese government has ignored their requests to ease pressure on foreign news outlets. They have called on Chinese officials to reinstate reporters from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Times who were expelled earlier this year. The expelled reporters have no ties to government institutions or the Trump administration.
“Beijing’s actions prove time and again that the C.C.P. is afraid of independent and investigative media reporting,” a spokesman for the American embassy in Beijing said in a statement this week, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
An agreement between the United States and China to ease tensions on the news media, while still elusive, could eventually lay the groundwork for more cooperation between the two countries, experts say.
A compromise could help reduce friction between the two countries at a tense moment, said Jerome A. Cohen, a New York University law professor and an expert on China.
“These steps will set the tone for the series of broader compromises that have to be attempted regarding more major issues,” Mr. Cohen said, pointing to climate change, trade, arms control and other challenges.
For Chinese journalists, the sharp deterioration in relations has been dispiriting.
Many say they have appreciated the chance to report in a relatively free environment on a variety of contentious issues, such as politics, religion and ethnic divisions — subjects that are typically restricted in China.
“I feel myself breathing again in an open society,” said Helen Zhang, a journalist from China who works in the United States. “Chinese journalism is not dead, but homeless.”
Ms. Chai, the reporter for SunTV, said she is considering leaving journalism once she returns to China, in part because of limits on free speech there. She said she worries the United States is isolating itself by making it harder for foreigners to report in the country.
“The United States should be giving positive messages to those who support democracy and freedom, instead of punishing everyone,” she said. “If your policies are driven by fear, driven by a kind of hostility, that creates very big problems.”
Albee Zhang contributed research.
There’s a media phenomenon the old-time blogger Mickey Kaus calls “overism”: articles in the week before the election whose premise is that even before the votes are counted, we know the winner — in this case, Joe Biden.
I plead guilty to writing a column with that tacit premise. I spent last week asking leading figures in media to indulge in the accursed practice of speculating about the consequences of an election that isn’t over yet. They all read the same polls as you do and think that President Trump will probably lose.
But many leaders in news and media have been holding their breaths for the election — and planning everything from retirements to significant shifts in strategy for the months to come, whoever wins. President Trump, after all, succeeded in making the old media great again, in part through his obsession with it. His riveting show allowed much of the television news business, in particular, to put off reckoning with the technological shifts — toward mobile devices and on-demand consumption — that have changed all of our lives. But now, change is in the air across a news landscape that has revolved around the president.
And given the jittery pre-election timing, I’ll try to keep these items short so you can check Nate Silver’s Twitter feed in between reading them.
The News Business After Trump
Before the 2016 election, Andrew Lack, then the head of NBC News, warned colleagues that MSNBC’s revenue would take a 30 percent hit if — when — Hillary Clinton was elected, two people familiar with the remark told me. (After the debacle in 2016, few in the media wanted to be quoted speculating about what happens after the election.)
Well, TV sure dodged that bullet! CNN’s chief, Jeff Zucker, later told his Los Angeles bureau that Mr. Trump had bought the declining business four more years, a person who was there recalled. (A spokesman for CNN said that Mr. Zucker would not have speculated on future ratings.) And it has been a profitable time for cable news, a record-breaking year for political books and, generally, a bonanza for the legacy media that live rent-free in the president’s head.
That may be ending. MSNBC and other outlets that thrived on resistance to Mr. Trump may see their audiences fade, said Ken Lerer, a veteran investor and adviser to old media and new, who also predicted that The New York Times would “cool off” as you, dear reader, find other things to do.
And the people who continue to pay attention to the news will stay online.
“The pandemic has advanced digital by four or five years and it will not go back to what it was,” Mr. Lerer said.
In corporate media, that means what Cesar Conde, the new chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, has been calling an “omnichannel” strategy, as brands like MSNBC no longer see themselves primarily as television. For new outlets, it’s an opportunity to press their advantage of being native to this new world.
“Many media organizations have spent the past four years generally failing to adapt to a campaign, a president, a White House and an administration that is extremely online,” said Stacy-Marie Ishmael, the editorial director of the nonprofit Texas Tribune. “We are only, four years in, getting to grips with how to contend with rhetorical techniques, messaging and communications steeped in misinformation and propaganda.”
Keep up with Election 2020
Others predicted a deeper cultural shift — from Stephen Colbert’s biting satire back to the sillier Jimmy Fallon, from politics back to entertainment, whenever the studios can get production running again. But some veterans of the business of politics doubt that news coverage can really calm down — or that consumers can look away.
“If Biden is elected, conservatives will be energized, not retreating,” said Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, HarperCollins’s conservative imprint. “Trump will keep tweeting, and new scandals from his presidency will keep unfolding for well into 2022. By the time that all chaos and nonsense runs out, Trump could be running again for 2024.”
A Wave of Retirements
You aren’t the only one just barely hanging on until Election Day. Most of the top leaders of many name-brand American news institutions will probably be gone soon, too. The executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, Norm Pearlstine, is looking to recruit a successor by the end of the year, he told me. Martin Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, just bought a house out of town and two Posties said they expected him to depart next year. He hasn’t given notice, The Post’s spokeswoman, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said. And the executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, is on track to retire by the time he turns 66 in 2022, two Times executives told me, dampening speculation that he might stay longer.
Over in big TV, Mr. Zucker, of CNN, has signaled that he’s frustrated with WarnerMedia, and broadcast television is overflowing with speculation about how long the network news chiefs will stay on, though no executives have suggested imminent departures. “Everyone is assuming there’s going to be turnover everywhere, and everyone is absolutely terrified about who is going to come in,” one television industry insider said.
This isn’t just the usual revolving door. Newsroom leaders face strong pulls in conflicting directions. Outlets all along the spectrum, from the staid BBC to the radical Intercept, have been moving to reassert final editorial control over their journalists. But newsroom employees — like a generation of workers across many industries — are arriving with heightened demands to be given more of a say in running their companies than in years past. New leaders may find opportunities to resolve some of the heated newsroom battles of the last year, or they may walk into firestorms.
Mr. Pearlstine, the only one talking openly of his departure, told me that the new “metrics for success might be different as well — issues such as inclusiveness, such as being anti-racist, such as really commanding some new platform, be it podcasts or video or newsletters, in addition to having journalistic credentials.”
And, he said, the old top-down newsroom management is a thing of the past. “Consent of the governed is something you have to take pretty seriously,” he said.
Wesley Lowery, a CBS News correspondent who has been a voice for more diverse and politically engaged journalism, said he had already seen signs of change.
“These big institutions very rarely come out and announce some big sweeping change — they say, ‘We’re not changing,’ and they change,” he said. “Even people who made a big deal about how the rebels were wrong are now conceding to the things we all wanted.”
Fox News on Autopilot
The right-wing cable channel has been riding high as the quasi-official White House network, though it has always been at its strongest when it’s attacking Democrats — who seem poised to take power.
But the approaching election has executives around Lachlan Murdoch, Fox’s chief executive, preparing to battle on several fronts: with left-wing critics, with what senior executives fear could be regulatory retribution from Democrats and perhaps most of all from James Murdoch, Lachlan’s more liberal brother and critic, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans.
And Lachlan Murdoch ends the election cycle as he began it: with no real control of the network’s high-profile talent and an unusually low profile for a figure of his nominal political power. One data point: a surprised patron of the Midtown power lunch spot Estiatorio Milos in late October reported overhearing Mr. Murdoch politely spelling his name to a hostess who didn’t recognize him.
The Attention Wars
The battles over speech and censorship, the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci tweeted recently, are becoming “attention wars.” As recently as last week, senators were dragging in tech executives to complain about individual tweets, but the arguments are about to turn more consequential. The platforms are increasingly being pushed to disclose how content travels and why — not just what they leave up and what they take down.
“We’re in this brave new world of content moderation that’s outside the take-down/leave-up false binary,” said Evelyn Douek, an expert on the subject and a lecturer at Harvard Law School.
In practice, Twitter, Facebook and the other big platforms are facing two sources of pressure. The first is from Australia and the European Union, where Germany has become the latest to push toward tight copyright restrictions.
“We are now at an inflection point with the digital platforms,” Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, told me in an email. “The tide has turned all around the world as governments and antitrust enforcers now see the size of the challenge ahead.”
The second source of pressure is the United States, where President Trump has pushed to repeal or revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from being liable for what they publish while allowing them to moderate content. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a co-author of the 1996 law who would head the powerful Finance Committee if Democrats take control of the Senate, said he was skeptical that changes to Section 230 would actually stop misinformation or what conservatives claim is censorship. And he noted that Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has said he supports some revisions, too.
“He made his money, and now he wants to pull up the ladder behind him,” Senator Wyden said in an interview on Saturday. “The fact that Facebook, of all companies, is calling for changes to 230 makes you say, ‘Wait a second.’” Mr. Wyden said his priority when it comes to big tech in the new Congress would be privacy legislation.
The media’s internal conflicts, meanwhile, play out on Twitter and, increasingly, on Substack, a newsletter platform where large audiences are paying for work by anti-Trump conservatives and iconoclastic voices on the left, who were joined last week by Glenn Greenwald, the national security journalist and free speech advocate who helped found The Intercept and quit in a dispute over whether his work should be edited.
Another way of looking at Substack is as a kind of Twitter Premium — a place you can pay for more content from your favorite journalists. And that synergy has caught the attention of some at Twitter itself, where the notion of acquiring the newsletter company has been discussed internally, a person familiar with the conversations said. (Executives at both companies declined to comment on the speculation.)
But it’s not clear whether Substack will continue to be the venue of choice for all of its stars. Mr. Greenwald wrote that he’d been exploring “the feasibility of securing financing for a new outlet” that would challenge what he sees as the “groupthink” of the left in the Trump era. And roiling anger in Silicon Valley with tough media coverage of companies and investments means there are deep pools of money for a new assault on big media.
“There’s going to be a surge of money after the election, especially from tech bros who think they can fix everything,” said one of the Substack writers who has drawn interest from tech investors.
Staying Sane for the Next 48 Hours
Nothing good will come of reading political news, much less Twitter, between now and the election. Election week is usually a good time to hide out at the movies, but with theaters closed, you’ll have to find escape elsewhere. Two favorites: The Times’s brilliant Election Distractor on the web; and for your Kindle, Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle, a bit of high-concept political sci-fi that will prepare you for many of the coming tech and political battles.
On election night, however, come to Twitter for the jokes and stay for what is really one of the highlights of American democracy, such as it is: the reassuringly sophisticated, nerdy and nonpartisan vote-counting conversation that you can listen in on among the likes of Mr. Silver, Nate Cohn, Ariel Edwards-Levy and Brandon Finnigan.