May 1, 2017 Last Updated 12:40 pm

NYT’s reader revenue model butts up against a possible reader revolt; Rupert Murdoch sets his eyes on Tribune Media

Morning Brief: Twitter is reportedly looking to team up with Bloomberg to create a streaming news service that will produce video content for Twitter 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

The hiring of Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal by The New York Times was not hidden by the newspaper, they actually made a rather big deal out it. But the editorial page team must have known that the columnist’s track record of denying climate change would bring controversy, maybe that is what they wanted — that is certainly what they have gotten, along with calls from some to cancel their subscriptions.

The NYT’s line-up of columnists has recently been a bit odd, with most familiar names as much made fun of by readers as admired. Each Tom Friedman column is examined for new cliches regarding globalism, for example. But the NYT felt it needed more conservative voices in the paper, despite the fact that the paper has been pursuing a reader revenue policy and conservatives don’t generally support the paper.

“When Adolph Ochs set out the mission for The New York Times at the end of the 19th century, he said he hoped to make its opinion pages a forum for ‘intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion,'” the paper said in its note introducing Stephens to readers. “Given how polarizing and partisan this era has become, we think it’s important to recommit ourselves to that goal.”

OK, though this doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement for the NYT’s current conservative columnists. But it was the sentence that follows that angry readers are referring to now.

“Taking the goal seriously doesn’t mean letting any opinion into the debate. There’s no place for bigotry or dishonesty in intelligent discussion.”

This point is precisely the one being made by social media critics of the NYT who think that paper has hired a climate change denier just to have one on staff.

As it turns out, Stephens didn’t use his first column to deny the reality of climate change, but instead used to be argue that despite overwhelming evidence of its existence, advocates are wrong in demanding that something be done about it. Stephens’s argument was that advocates are arguing that the government should take actions, when it would be better if they just shut up about it, at least for now.

“Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.”

Stephens, in other words, doesn’t want to be taken to task for preventing government action to save the planet.

Here’s the thing: Stephens is entitled to his opinion, as planet wrecking as it might be, and the NYT has the right to publish it, but are readers required to go along and pay for it when they feel strongly about the issue?

It is not a question that might have come up a few decades ago when readers were not told they needed to be the paper’s lifeline, that was what the advertising was for, and many times papers were accused of placing advertiser interests ahead of those of the readers. Now, they have been told, that the NYT needs readers to pony up, and in exchange the NYT will pursue “the truth” – even it that means adversarial journalism. But what happens when readers decide they don’t see the paper as doing that?

The NYT has a special problem on its hands. Readers still remember the paper’s support for the Iraq War, and they certainly remember the paper making a big deal of FBI Director Comey’s letter to Congress just before Election Day. Many readers have plenty of grips about the paper, and many no longer see the paper as the leading liberal voice it once was. So, why pay for it?

Further, the way some NYT staffers reacted to the reader feedback was not helpful, with many being critical of anyone who thought it would be appropriate for a readers to react by cancelling their subscription. It was like they were saying “how dare you criticize us, we are the Times.”

Will there really be a flood of cancelations? It is hard to tell because people say all sorts of things on social media, much of it not true. On Twitter there were plenty of suspicious tweets about the paper, both for and against the paper. It felt like a battle of bots. Because publisher’s statements come out long after the period being covered, it may be a long time before we know if the paper has seriously damaged itself.

Slate, Susan Matthews:

Bret Stephens’ First Column for the New York Times Is Classic Climate Change Denialism

The weekend after the New York Times announced it was hiring Bret Stephens—a conservative formerly of the Wall Street Journal whom some consider a climate-change denier—to be its new columnist, I got into a fight with my mother. She was defending his hiring, arguing that he held views that many people hold, and that perhaps allowing him to put them on the pages of the New York Times would allow the paper to regain its position as a news source that can be trusted by people on both sides of the political spectrum. She was right that the public no longer seems to agree on what truth is, but she was wrong that bringing Stephens on would help us resolve this…

…This is a classic strain of climate-change denialism. Stephens does not call a single fact into question throughout his piece. Instead, he’s telling his readers that their decision not to trust the entire institution of science that supports the theory of climate change might actually be reasonable. “Ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism,” he writes. “They know—as all environmentalists should—that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.” Trust nothing, he urges, for nothing deserves trust.

The Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli: NY Times hired a hippie puncher to give climate obstructionists cover
The Hill, Joe Concha: The death of civil discourse: Twitterverse eviscerates Bret Stephens over climate column
CNN, Jackie Wattles and Dylan Byers: NYT subscribers dropping paper over climate column
MediaMatters, Matt Gertz: The NY Times Sold Subscriptions On Opposing “Alternative Facts.” Then It Published Bret Stephens

Generally, when a media company has decided to split off its print from its broadcast properties the broadcast side has outperformed its former partners. This has happened with Gannett, Time Inc. and other splits. But The Tribune Company, when it split, created two messes out of one.

Now Tribune Media, the broadcast site created with the split of The Tribune Company, is looking to sell out, with the two likely bidders being Rupert Murdoch (21st Century Fox) and Sinclair Broadcasting. Both are far-right organizations that will not need to worry about the Trump administration putting any deal on hold. Media M&A is likely to boom this year and next.

The Financial Times, Matthew Garrahan:

Fox in talks with Blackstone to buy Tribune Media

Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is in talks with Blackstone, the private equity firm, to launch a joint bid for Tribune Media, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

Tribune, which owns a portfolio of US television stations, has a market capitalization of $3.2bn.

Fox and Blackstone hope to trump a rival offer from Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of US television stations, and plan to form a joint venture for the deal, with Blackstone providing the cash and Fox injecting its own portfolio of stations.

Dow Jones Newswires:

Possible Bidding War Emerges for Tribune Media

A potential bidding war is emerging for Tribune Media, one of the nation’s largest owners of local television stations.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, 21st Century Fox in partnership with private-equity firm Blackstone Group, and Nexstar Media Group are all circling Tribune, according to people familiar with the matter. The deadline for final bids is Thursday, these people said…

…Fox’s interest in Tribune is motivated, in part, by a desire to keep Sinclair from owning it, one of the people said. Sinclair is already one of the biggest owners of stations “affiliated” with the Fox network, and acquiring Tribune would add an additional 14. That would give Sinclair significantly more leverage in negotiations with 21st Century Fox.

Twitter is the social media outlet for the media world, far more so than Facebook. Twitter is where journalists stay on top of breaking news, and where many media companies work to drive traffic to their content. In this way, Twitter is very neutral territory for publishers.

But Twitter is in search of a business model that works, and teaming up with a media company to produce streaming video news content may be one of the things that the company will attempt. One wonders if the effort will pan out, or whether some media companies will begin to see Twitter more as a competitor than a partner.

The Wall Street Journal, Lukas I. Alpert:

Twitter Teams Up With Bloomberg for Streaming News

Twitter Inc. has found its first partner for its push into round-the-clock streaming television: Bloomberg.

The social-media company is joining forces with the global financial news outlet to create a service that will stream news produced solely for Twitter 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It is going to be focused on the most important news for an intelligent audience around the globe and it’s going to be broader in focus than our existing network,” said Bloomberg Media’s chief executive officer, Justin Smith.

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