Inside Politico’s Billion-Dollar Drama

Old resentments among Mr. VandeHei, Mr. Harris and Mr. Allbritton then boiled over. Mr. VandeHei, Mr. Allen and the company’s chief revenue officer, Roy Schwartz, quit Politico and started the newsletter outfit Axios, an immediate success that became a serious competitor. The move brought an end to what had seemed to outsiders like a close friendship between Mr. Allbritton and Mr. VandeHei, though Mr. Allbritton said he didn’t take it personally.

“A lot of other people had much bigger emotional reactions than I did,” he said brightly.

He also said that he did not consider Axios a competitor, given that its coverage was “broader” than Politico’s. He pointed to recent Axios articles on Apple News and the hurricane approaching New Orleans.

“We would never do a piece on meteorology,” Mr. Allbritton said.

But Mr. VandeHei’s exit did not sit well with his former longtime editorial partner, Mr. Harris, and the site’s new editor, Carrie Budoff Brown. “Politico implodes,” gloated The Post. And as Axios took on the sheen of hot new thing, the rivalry between the two publications turned bitter. (At this point, assigning blame for the breach is a little like trying to glibly arbitrate the Israel-Palestine conflict.)

Mr. Harris spent the next year persuading Politico’s reporters and editors not to abandon ship, while Ms. Budoff Brown restructured the newsroom and worked to improve a workplace culture some employees described as grinding and sometimes sexist.

In May, Mr. Allbritton said he caught wind that Mr. VandeHei was in talks to sell Axios to Axel Springer. Did he start negotiating with the Germans to spoil Mr. VandeHei’s deal? I supposed that might have been part of the attraction. And in Politico’s news release announcing the planned sale, a quote from Mr. Allbritton suggested as much: “Particularly in recent years,” he said, “we have put the emphasis on doing rather than boasting.” A spokesman denied that the line was aimed at his former colleagues, and Mr. Allbritton said he was simply, after years of flirtation with Axel Springer, ready to acknowledge that his family business didn’t have the “horsepower” necessary to keep growing.

“We’re better off with this publication going to a big global company,” he said.

On the day of the announcement, The New York Times reported that Axel Springer might still pursue a deal for Axios — perhaps Mr. VandeHei would be chief executive after the two publications merged? (I’d always assumed he would run for office in his native Wisconsin one of these days.) Politico’s executives in Washington pressed the German company to add a firm denial to the story, which they did.

Asked why he had chosen Politico over Axios, Mr. Döpfner told me in a telephone interview, “It’s an easy decision that you go for the No. 1.” Mr. VandeHei called the sale “great news” for companies that produce quality journalism in a text to me.

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Facebook, Fearing Public Outcry, Shelved Earlier Report on Popular Posts

When Facebook this week released its first quarterly report about the most viewed posts in the United States, Guy Rosen, its vice president of integrity, said the social network had undertaken “a long journey” to be “by far the most transparent platform on the internet.” The list showed that the posts with the most reach tended to be innocuous content like recipes and cute animals.

Facebook had prepared a similar report for the first three months of the year, but executives never shared it with the public because of concerns that it would look bad for the company, according to internal emails sent by executives and shared with The New York Times.

In that report, a copy of which was provided to The Times, the most-viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was at fault for the death of a Florida doctor. The report also showed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that spreads right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th-most-popular page on the platform for the first three months of 2021.

The report was nearing public release when some executives, including Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, debated whether it would cause a public relations problem, according to the internal emails. The company decided to shelve it.

called on the company to share more information about false and misleading information on the site, and to do a better job of stopping its spread. Last month, President Biden accused the company of “killing people” by allowing false information to circulate widely, a statement the White House later softened. Other federal agencies have accused Facebook of withholding key data.

Facebook has pushed back, publicly accusing the White House of scapegoating the company for the administration’s failure to reach its vaccination goals. Executives at Facebook, including Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, have said the platform has been aggressively removing Covid-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic. The company said it had removed over 18 million pieces of misinformation in that period.

But Brian Boland, a former vice president of product marketing at Facebook, said there was plenty of reason to be skeptical about data collected and released by a company that has had a history of protecting its own interests.

barred from advertising on Facebook because of its repeated violations of the platform’s political advertising policy.

Trending World, according to the report, was viewed by 81.4 million accounts, slightly fewer than the 18th-most-popular page, Fox News, which had 81.7 million content viewers for the first three months of 2021.

Facebook’s transparency report released on Wednesday also showed that an Epoch Times subscription link was among the most viewed in the United States. With some 44.2 million accounts seeing the link in April, May and June, it was about half as popular as Trending World in the shelved report.

Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac contributed reporting. Jacob Silver and Ben Decker contributed research.

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BuzzFeed Is Going Public. Now What for Vox Media, Group Nine and Vice?

“For us, it’s a question of ambition and opportunity, and we are ambitious,” said Jim Bankoff, Vox Media’s chief executive. “We are going to evaluate our options, but we’re going to do it from a position of strength.” He would not comment on financial details or any potential deals.

Group Nine had talks with major publishers, including Vox Media, about a possible merger for its own SPAC listing, but so far none have materialized, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. Ben Lerer, the head of Group Nine, said in an interview that the company was “in an enviable position” given its recent sales growth.

“The SPAC obviously allows us to be even more ambitious,” he said.

An option for Group Nine would be a deal with one of its largest backers: Discovery Inc. The media giant recently orchestrated a daring takeover of WarnerMedia in an effort to better compete in streaming. Group Nine’s properties have helped drive hundreds of thousands of new customers to Discovery’s streaming platform through content partnerships, making it an attractive takeover target.

The digital ad market thrived during the pandemic, as people started spending more online; BuzzFeed, Vox Media and Group Nine all benefited. Still, their gains were nothing compared with the amounts brought in by the digital giants.

“Facebook, Google and Amazon’s crumbs are Vox, Group Nine and Buzzfeed’s cake,” said Brian Wieser, the lead analyst at GroupM, the media investing arm of the ad company WPP.

That disparity underlines the need of the ad-driven publishers to keep getting bigger.

BuzzFeed’s entry into the public markets is likely to give it an advantage. In addition to cash, it will be able to use its stock as currency to make another deal along the lines of its HuffPost purchase.

“We’ll have opportunities to pursue more acquisitions, and there are more exciting companies out there that we want to pursue,” Jonah Peretti, a BuzzFeed co-founder and the chief executive, said last month.

When asked if BuzzFeed would consider entering the subscription business, he said in a recent interview: “Sure, we’d consider it. Why not?”

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Here’s a Look Inside Facebook’s Data Wars

“Reach leaderboard isn’t a total win from a comms point of view,” Mr. Silverman wrote.

Mr. Schultz, Facebook’s chief marketing officer, had the dimmest view of CrowdTangle. He wrote that he thought “the only way to avoid stories like this” would be for Facebook to publish its own reports about the most popular content on its platform, rather than releasing data through CrowdTangle.

“If we go down the route of just offering more self-service data you will get different, exciting, negative stories in my opinion,” he wrote.

Mr. Osborne, the Facebook spokesman, said Mr. Schultz and the other executives were discussing how to correct misrepresentations of CrowdTangle data, not strategizing about killing off the tool.

A few days after the election in November, Mr. Schultz wrote a post for the company blog, called “What Do People Actually See on Facebook in the U.S.?” He explained that if you ranked Facebook posts based on which got the most reach, rather than the most engagement — his preferred method of slicing the data — you’d end up with a more mainstream, less sharply partisan list of sources.

“We believe this paints a more complete picture than the CrowdTangle data alone,” he wrote.

That may be true, but there’s a problem with reach data: Most of it is inaccessible and can’t be vetted or fact-checked by outsiders. We simply have to trust that Facebook’s own, private data tells a story that’s very different from the data it shares with the public.

Mr. Zuckerberg is right about one thing: Facebook is not a giant right-wing echo chamber.

But it does contain a giant right-wing echo chamber — a kind of AM talk radio built into the heart of Facebook’s news ecosystem, with a hyper-engaged audience of loyal partisans who love liking, sharing and clicking on posts from right-wing pages, many of which have gotten good at serving up Facebook-optimized outrage bait at a consistent clip.

CrowdTangle’s data made this echo chamber easier for outsiders to see and quantify. But it didn’t create it, or give it the tools it needed to grow — Facebook did — and blaming a data tool for these revelations makes no more sense than blaming a thermometer for bad weather.

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Fox News Intensifies Its Pro-Trump Politics as Dissenters Depart

Fox News once devoted its 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. time slots to relatively straightforward newscasts. Now those hours are filled by opinion shows led by hosts who denounce Democrats and defend the worldview of former President Donald J. Trump.

For seven years, Juan Williams was the lone liberal voice on “The Five,” the network’s popular afternoon chat show. On Wednesday, he announced that he was leaving the program, after months of harsh on-air blowback from his conservative co-hosts. Many Fox News viewers cheered his exit on social media.

Donna Brazile, the former Democratic Party chairwoman, was hired by Fox News with great fanfare in 2019 as a dissenting voice for its political coverage. She criticized Mr. Trump and spoke passionately about the Black Lives Matter movement, which other hosts on the network often demonized. Ms. Brazile has now left Fox News; last week, she quietly started a new job at ABC.

Onscreen and off, in ways subtle and overt, Fox News has adapted to the post-Trump era by moving in a single direction: Trumpward.

amounted to an existential moment for a cable channel that is home to Trump cheerleaders like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham: the 2020 election.

Fox News’s ratings fell sharply after the network made an early call on election night that Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, would carry Arizona and later declared him the winner, even as Mr. Trump advanced lies about fraud. With viewers in revolt, the network moved out dissenting voices and put a new emphasis on hard-line right-wing commentary.

the network fired its veteran politics editor, Chris Stirewalt, who had been an onscreen face of the early call in Arizona for Mr. Biden. This month, it brought on a new editor in the Washington bureau: Kerri Kupec, a former spokeswoman for Mr. Trump’s attorney general William P. Barr. She had no journalistic experience.

opinion shows at 7 and 11 — with segments that lament “cancel culture” and attack Mr. Biden — are attracting bigger audiences than the newscasts they replaced. And the niche right-wing network Newsmax has failed to sustain its postelection audience gains.

In some ways, the Murdochs are making a rational business decision by following the conservatives who have made up the heart of the Fox News audience; recent surveys show that more than three-quarters of Republicans want Mr. Trump to run in 2024.

But under Roger Ailes, the network’s founder, who shaped its look and feel, Fox News elevated liberal foils like Alan Colmes, a Democrat who shared equal billing in prime time with Mr. Hannity until the end of 2008, and moderates like Mr. Williams.

Credit…Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

“Roger’s view was you had to have some unpredictability and you had to challenge the audience; you couldn’t just be reading Republican talking points every night,” said Susan R. Estrich, a Democratic lawyer and former commentator on Fox News who negotiated Mr. Ailes’s exit from the network amid his sexual misconduct scandal.

Ms. Estrich recalled that Mr. Ailes had defended Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, attacked her in misogynist terms. Now, she said, “instead of trying to broaden their audience, Fox News is narrowing it and digging in.”

Rick Santorum, after he was criticized for remarks about Native Americans.

Ms. Brazile said she had left Fox News of her own accord.

“Fox never censored my views in any way,” she wrote in an email. “Everyone treated me courteously as a colleague.” Ms. Brazile added: “I believe it’s important for all media to expose their audiences to both progressive and conservative viewpoints. With the election and President Biden’s first 100 days behind us, I’ve accomplished what I wanted at Fox News.”

an outcry from the Anti-Defamation League.

A pro-Trump drift at Fox News is not new: George Will, a traditional conservative who opposed Mr. Trump’s candidacy, lost his contributor contract in 2017. Shepard Smith, a news anchor who was tough on Mr. Trump, left in 2019.

Some Fox News journalists, though, say privately that they are increasingly concerned with the network’s direction. Kristin Fisher, one of the network’s rising stars in Washington and a White House correspondent, left Fox News last month despite the network’s effort to keep her. She had faced criticism from viewers in November after a segment in which she aggressively debunked lies about election fraud advanced by Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

The longtime Washington bureau chief, Bill Sammon, resigned in January after internal criticism over his handling of election coverage, around the time that Mr. Stirewalt was fired. (Mr. Stirewalt was let go along with roughly 20 digital journalists at Fox News, which the network attributed to a realignment of “business and reporting structure to meet the demands of this new era.”)

Mr. Sammon has effectively been replaced by Doug Rohrbeck, a producer with extensive news experience on Bret Baier’s newscast and Chris Wallace’s Sunday show. Still, some Fox journalists were surprised when the network hired Ms. Kupec, the former Barr spokeswoman, to work under Mr. Rohrbeck. (In 2019, CNN hired Sarah Isgur, the spokeswoman for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as a political editor. After protests from staff, she was shifted to an on-air role and later left the network.)

Fox News International, a streaming service available in 37 countries in Asia and Europe.

Despite continuing criticism from liberals, Fox News remains a financial juggernaut for the Murdoch empire; it is expected to earn record advertising revenues this year, the network said.

Even as its programming decisions seem aimed at attracting Trump supporters, Fox News does face one roadblock: Mr. Trump. The former president has maintained his stinging criticism of Fox News, which, he has claimed, betrayed him by calling the election for Mr. Biden.

On Friday, after criticism from Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, Mr. Trump wrote that “Fox totally lost its way and became a much different place” after the Murdochs appointed Mr. Ryan to the Fox Corporation board.

“Fox will never be the same!” Mr. Trump wrote.

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Associated Press Begins Review of Social Media Policy After Emily Wilder Firing

The Associated Press has started a review of its social media policy after more than 150 staff members publicly condemned the firing of a young journalist for violating that policy.

In a memo to its global newsrooms on Monday, The A.P.’s top editors said they had heard the concerns from many journalists over the weekend and were “committed to expanding the conversation taking place about A.P.’s approach to social media.”

The news agency faced a backlash after Emily Wilder, a 22-year-old news associate who had joined the company in Arizona, was dismissed on May 19, three weeks after she was hired.

Ms. Wilder, who graduated from Stanford University in 2020 and had worked at The Arizona Republic, said in a statement on Friday that she had been the subject of a campaign by Stanford College Republicans, whose social media posts drew attention to her pro-Palestine activism at the university. She added that her editors had reassured her she would not be fired for her past advocacy work.

one tweet, she said that “using ‘israel’ but never ‘palestine,’ or ‘war’ but not ‘siege and occupation’ are political choices — yet media make those exact choices all the time without being flagged as biased.”

Dozens of A.P. journalists signed an open letter after Ms. Wilder’s firing, criticizing the news agency and asking for clarification on how she had violated the company’s social media policy.

“The lack of clarity on the violations of the social media policy has made A.P. journalists afraid to engage on social media — often critical to our jobs — in any capacity,” the letter said.

Ten newsroom leaders responded Monday in a memo to the staff announcing a plan to review its guidelines. They said that formal groups would discuss ideas and make recommendations, and a committee of staff members would review the recommendations by Sept. 1. Any changes to the policy would then be raised in the next round of contract negotiations with the union that represents A.P. employees, the News Media Guild.

“One of the issues brought forward in recent days is the belief that restrictions on social media prevent you from being your true self, and that this disproportionately harms journalists of color, L.G.B.T.Q. journalists and others who often feel attacked online,” the memo said.

The editors said in the note that “much of the coverage” of Ms. Wilder’s dismissal “does not accurately portray a difficult decision that we did not make lightly.”

Lauren Easton, a spokeswoman for The A.P., said the company generally refrained from commenting on personnel, but confirmed that Ms. Wilder was dismissed for violating the social media policy.

“We understand that other news organizations may not have made the same decision,” she said. “While many news organizations offer points of view, opinion columnists and editorials, A.P. does not. We don’t express opinion. Our bedrock is fact-based, unbiased reporting.”

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