Weekly Briefing: Friday, December 8th
The Information turns 10, WaPo’s 24-hour strike, and more
Happy Friday! And welcome to Business Side’s Weekly Briefing.
In today’s edition:
Top developments at The Information, WaPo, and new nonprofit NOTUS (News of the United States).
Benchmarks on Future, journalism & philanthropy, and Bustle Digital Group.
Viewpoints from operators at WSJ, NPR, and The Charlotte Ledger.
Plus more news from across the media industry.
Let’s get to it.
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The Information turns 10. Vanity Fair published a retrospective on the tech news site, which has found success over the last decade by pairing a subscription business model with original reporting focused on technology & business.
By the numbers: The Information has 475k active readers (paid and unpaid); expects 30% YoY revenue growth this year; and counts 65 full-time employees across offices in SF, NYC, and Hong Kong.
A targeted audience: From the start, The Information differentiated itself by catering to a small audience of tech & business execs. The publication's founder Jessica Lessin argues that the larger audiences of legacy publications like the NYT and WSJ “really limits how indispensable [they] can be, especially to a certain class of reader.”
A long-term approach: Ten years ago, The Information’s self-funded, subscription-first approach was unconventional, as most buzzy media startups at the time used VC dollars to pursue ad dollars and social traffic. But The Information’s commitment to its original vision has helped it outlast many of these peers. “You need the talent, you need the right business model, and kind of that alignment that we’re not going to go chase the latest fancy revenue thing,” says Lessin.
WaPo’s 24-hour strike. Around 700 Washington Post employees walked off the job yesterday to protest stalled contract negotiations and expected layoffs. It’s the first strike at The Post since the 1970s.
Contract negotiations: WaPo’s union, Post Guild, said it had been negotiating with company management for the past 18 months, but talks broke down after management “refused to bargain in good faith.” Wages were one sticking point, with The Post reportedly proposing a 2.25% increase that the union deemed insufficient.
Expected layoffs: In October, interim CEO Patty Stonesifer told staff that The Post would cut about 240 jobs (just shy of 10% of staff). The plan was to reach this target through voluntary buyouts, but last month Stonesifer said layoffs might be necessary.
An early test: Will Lewis took over as CEO last month and appears to have made a strong first impression with staff. But the strike presents Lewis with an early test of leadership, as he tries to chart a new course for the paper.
NOTUS to launch in January. The new nonprofit newsroom, News of the United States (“NOTUS” for short), will launch next month with a focus on politics and the 2024 election.
Funding: The newsroom is run out of the Allbritton Journalism Institute, a nonprofit founded with $20 million in funding from Politico founder Robert Allbritton.
A unique mission: In addition to publishing original reporting, the newsroom aims to “train the next generation of aspiring journalists” by bringing in young reporters to learn from the publication’s seasoned staff. Back in May, Albritton said, “Big newspapers where reporters used to get training are kind of gone. There’s got to be a track where we can provide opportunities for bright folks.”
Staff: Former Politico & Protocol editor Tim Grieve will lead the newsroom as EIC, along with BuzzFeed News alums Matt Berman and Kate Nocera and former WaPo Magazine editor Richard Just. The project has also brought on faculty that includes The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta and reporter Wesley Lowery.
Future’s full-year earnings (Press Gazette):
Annual revenue was £788.9m (excluding acquisitions), a 10% YoY decline.
Ad revenue declined by 7% YoY, with US ad revenue down 25%.
Affiliate revenue was flat, with US affiliate revenue down 25%.
The company also announced a £25-30m investment initiative, pledging to hire 150 new editorial staff.
Bustle Digital Group (AdWeek):
$136m to $144m in expected revenue this year – a 10-15% decline from 2022.
85% to 90% of overall revenue comes from advertising, of which 85% is branded content.
The company is planning layoffs that would impact less than 5% of its staff.
Philanthropy & journalism (Lenfest):
59% of the 129 funders surveyed increased their journalism grantmaking in the last five years.
But journalism is still a small concern for most, representing less than 10% of giving for 70% of funders.
Within journalism grants, local news is a top priority for many funders, with 71% making grants specifically to increase local journalism production.
DEI is another top concern for many funders, with 78% considering diversity in the grantmaking process.
Newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises released Q4 earnings, missing estimates but growing digital-only subscribers 36% YoY to 721k.
The New European, a pro-Europe weekly newspaper, grew subscribers to 28k, a 62% YoY increase.
Group M is forecasting that global ad spend will end 2023 with 5.8% YoY growth and then slow slightly next year with 5.3% growth.
Entertainment employment in LA has contracted by 17% – about 25k jobs – since the writer’s strike began in May.
NPR’s senior director of brand & marketing Kristin Hume on launching new podcasts:
We used to be able to roll out a podcast, mention it on a few other shows and boom, we’d have like 200,000 downloads a week, easy. Now there’s just so many other options out there that we have been really having to formalize how we roll them out.
MIT Technology Review’s engagement editor Julia Beauchamp on LinkedIn newsletters:
I think of the LinkedIn newsletter as a precursor to an owned and operated newsletter in someone’s engagement/awareness journey. These subscribers are aware of who we are, but not so dedicated that they’re entrenched in the MIT Technology Review universe. So I want to expose them to as much variety as possible, and if they’re really into one beat, they can subscribe to one of our owned and operated beat newsletters.
NYT’s director of off-platform Jake Grovum on the outlet’s approach to Threads:
As far as we can tell, we see evidence that people are interested in news and engaging with it and clicking through to read and things like that. We’ve seen sufficient return to site, engagement, growth and all those things to continue programming… We see that it has potential and is promising on the platform and is worth us spending our time maintaining day to day.
Dow Jones CEO & WSJ Publisher Almar Latour on competing in uncertain times:
I encourage everybody to look at the companies that have risen, and then have seen a slump, or worse. You see that maximising and taking on more types of content to get the larger audience to a point of dilution, where no one recognises your unique value, and then it’s done. And so that is the thing I would watch the closest, is anything you can do to define your value, to enhance your value and to enhance your identity.
Second Rough Draft’s Dick Tofel on the lack of bold AI experimentation:
But in most newsrooms, one year into what is pretty evidently a revolutionary development, experimentation [with AI] has been stunningly modest, with the bulk of attention going to what are clearly transient problems with accuracy as these products mature and a few desperate efforts by cost-cutters to replace uninteresting content generated by humans on hamster wheels with uninteresting content generated by machines.
Charlotte Ledger cofounder Tony Mecia on the challenges & opportunities in local news:
What I’m seeing is that it’s not that people aren’t interested in the news — [it’s that] it hasn’t, in the last few years at least, been delivered to them in a way that is relevant to them. When you see people leaving, when you see circulation of newspapers declining, does that mean people don’t want to pay for local news — or that they don’t really like the [product]?
Two new nonprofit newsrooms, Mirror Indy and Signal Akron, launched with support from The American Journalism Project.
The UK digital media startup The Lead is planning to launch ten local newsletters across Northern England after receiving a six-figure investment.
The BBC relaunched its North American website as part of a broader push into the US.
NYT is adding ads in its game Connections.
Chartbeat launched Recommendation Engine, a tool to help publishers surface related content to readers.
Reader's Digest Canada is shutting down after 76 years.
Hearst acquired the puzzle platform, Puzzmo, and plans to roll it out across more than 50 publications.
Active Interest Media acquired The Taunton Press, which publishes brands that cover woodworking, homebuilding and design, and gardening.
Hozefa Lokhandwala is stepping down as co-CEO of Vice.
Two top Sports Illustrated execs are out at the company.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune hired Aron Pilhofer as its new chief product officer.
NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises appointed Luis Fernández as its new chairman.
Wired reportedly laid off an undisclosed number of staffers yesterday.
Yahoo News laid off staffers earlier this week and is shutting down its millennial and Gen Z-focused “In The Know” vertical.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada is planning to cut about 10% of its staff.
The Messenger is considering a “strategic realignment,” with layoffs reportedly on the table.
Separately, Meta is facing a $600 million lawsuit from a group representing 83 Spanish media outlets, who claim the platform benefits from unfair competition in the ad market.
Gmail upgraded its spam filters to understand “adversarial text manipulations" — junk emails with lots of typos, emojis, and other special characters.
X is accelerating plans to court small and mid-size advertisers, after boycotts from several large brands. The company also launched an “anti-woke” chatbot, Grok, which is available to X Premium Plus users.
Google introduced its new AI model Gemini, which outperforms OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4 on a variety of benchmarks. A version of Gemini is now powering Google’s Bard chatbot.
The G7 agreed on international guidelines for both AI users and developers.
Bloomberg Businessweek will begin publishing monthly after 94 years as a weekly magazine.
New research indicates that people perceive news labeled as AI-generated as being less trustworthy.
Nieman Lab has begun rolling out predictions for 2024.
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