May 18, 2017 Last Updated 10:00 am

TIME examines ‘Russia’s Social Media War on America’ as Justice Dept appoints special counsel

Morning Brief: ISPs say new FCC efforts to kill off net neutrality won’t end their adherence to it values, but to investors they are saying that the data they collect will be the key to their digital media business growth

The media may finally be getting the hang of this: try and stay apprised of the news the best you can during the day, taking a break every now and then to go through your Twitter feed and email, then around 5PM ET get your desk in order and sit back and wait. Others head for the subway or train station, walking carefully, eyes always on your phone. Waiting. It is sure to happen, another gasp inspiring breaking story.

It came a little later yesterday. But it came. News that the Justice Department had appointed former head of the FBI Robert Mueller as special counsel.

It might be easy to see the events of the past weeks as strictly political, but the past year has profoundly effected the news media business, and therefore digital publishing. A year ago, TNM was beginning publishing it second website that looked at politics and the media. Google immediately added it to Google News, always a good sign for a start-up news site. But traffic was light, and I wondered if the second sight was worth the effort. A few weeks in the site began attracting pro-Trump trolls and bots, and soon the site started to experience denial of service attacks (DDoS).

It was frustrating that much of the media world did want to acknowledge what was happening right before our eyes. The attacks on TNM’s second site, then on TNM as well (probably because some stories were cross-posted onto TNM), could be traced back to Russia, and journalists were increasingly harassed by trolls and bots online. But journalists are hesitant to talk about what is happening to themselves personally and so the story really wasn’t as big as it should have been.

It will be huge now, and it will change the media landscape. Could you even imagine at the start of last year that the head of Fox News, Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly would be gone, and the channel’s ratings would be seen as in trouble? (And now, the news is that Roger Ailes is dead.)

But as frustrating as last summer was, one can see journalists begin to want to explore the subject of what they experience online, and how that is tied into what we saw during the campaign.

TIME Magazine is featuring this topic on their cover this week, a sign that — finally — we will begin to see a real investigation into how nefarious actors are using social media and disinformation to influence our politics.

TIME, Massimo Calabresi:

Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America

On March 2, a disturbing report hit the desks of U.S. counterintelligence officials in Washington. For months, American spy hunters had scrambled to uncover details of Russia’s influence operation against the 2016 presidential election. In offices in both D.C. and suburban Virginia, they had created massive wall charts to track the different players in Russia’s multipronged scheme. But the report in early March was something new.

It described how Russia had already moved on from the rudimentary email hacks against politicians it had used in 2016. Now the Russians were running a more sophisticated hack on Twitter…

…Current and former officials at the FBI, at the CIA and in Congress now believe the 2016 Russian operation was just the most visible battle in an ongoing information war against global democracy. And they’ve become more vocal about their concern. “If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress on May 8.

CNN, Brian Stelter:

Fox News losing out in prime time ratings race amid Trump turmoil

Fox News and MSNBC both find themselves in unusual positions right now: Fox is losing and MSNBC is winning.
And there seems to be a striking similarity between the ratings race and President Trump’s political fortunes.

Fox, which has a pro-Trump vibe in prime time, usually ranks No. 1 among cable news channels with 25 to 54 year olds, a key demographic for advertisers.

But for the past week, with Trump mired in scandal, MSNBC has out-rated Fox News in prime time in the so-called “demo.”

The Hill, Joe Concha:

MSNBC’s O’Donnell takes contract negotiation frustration public

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell took to Twitter Wednesday morning to share his frustration over contract negotiations, indicating he will let his fans know “where they can watch” him on June 5 if he is not re-signed by the network…

…Unidentified sources told the Huffington Post on Sunday that NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andy Lack “is no fan of O’Donnell’s program.”

They added that Lack believes O’Donnell, who has been with MSNBC since 2009, is only enjoying his recent ratings surge because of the strong lead-in provided by “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Deadline, Lisa de Moraes:

Samantha Bee Thanks ‘Full Frontal’ Advertisers, Acknowledges “We Are A Challenging Show For Brands”

Bee took a moment to thank “all of our precious and attractive advertisers for their patience and intestinal fortitude.”

“We appreciate that we are a challenging show for brands. But I assure you that we always have someone watching out for us to keep us on the straight and narrow,” Bee said, quickly correcting herself: “Sorry, I meant ‘to keep us out of jail’.”

“Our Standards and Practices team is the best in the business, and we cherish them,” she assured, sharing with the hall a recent email exchange with S&P over a language choice in a recent episode. It went like this:

Full Frontal to S&P: “Can we use ‘twat’ in reference to a vagina? Please let us know as soon as you can. Context. Rick Scott’s spent most of his administration relaxing Florida’s gun laws until they’re looser than the twat of an elephant who just had triplets.”

S&P to Full Frontal: “This use of ‘twat’ is approved by S&P. We can approve the wide shot of the elephant birth; however S&P cannot approve the medium shot of the elephant’s vagina. Please let us know if you have any questions.”

Late yesterday afternoon, after the stock market had closed, but before the time when another earth-shattering news story could be expected to break, I posted the story about how media company stock prices had fallen in yesterday’s market free fall, and that New Media Investment Group’s board had approved a $100 million stock repurchase plan.

Stock futures point to another rough day on Wall Street as the market’s concerns about the state of US politics were reinforced after the bell yesterday with the appointment of a special counsel.

But the market will settle (likely), but the political turmoil in Washington will have an effect on the economy, and hence on publishers.

Few want to talk openly about it, but consumer brands are either cutting back their budgets, or reevaluating them in light of both the economy, and concerns about return on investment. Facebook and Google are getting fresh looks, and some print publishers are thinking that any major shift could help them.

But, let’s be honest, the early signs are that 2017 will continue to be a problem for many news publishers. So far, at least, television is where we are seeing the first warnings signs.

Variety, Cynthia Littleton:

Soft Q1 Advertising Sales for Media Conglomerates Put Networks in Tough Spot

The narrative is not pretty. Across the board at the major media conglomerates, advertising sales reported in first-quarter earnings were flat at best or down sharply from year-ago benchmarks…

…some executives said there was a feeling of hesitancy on the part of blue-chip advertisers in vital TV categories such as automotive, tech and pharmaceuticals.

“Given some uncertainty in the economy, we think that advertisers are holding back a bit, and they’re taking a little bit of a wait-and-see approach,” said Turner CEO John Martin during Time Warner’s May 3 earnings call. Martin also cited a slowdown in the number of overall new product launches for the pullback in spending.

The Trump administration’s head of the FCC has said it wants to bury net neutrality, but the big ISPs have vowed to continue to adhere to its concepts. But no one really believes them, despite their protestations.

A big reason might be what they are telling investors: that customer data that we all worry about they see as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

FierceWireless, Colin Gibbs:

AT&T’s Stephens: Data will be key to digital media revenues

Like its rival Verizon, AT&T continues to build out its digital media business as growth in the overall U.S. wireless market stalls. And data will play a huge role in that effort, CFO John Stephens said this morning…

…“You’ve got this tremendous amount of data,” Stephens told attendees at an investors conference, “and when you take that data (you can) say, ‘Hey, Warner Studios, this is what people are actually watching, this is what people are engaging in, this is what they want to do with it. Can you take this information and help me with the production side of how you choose movies and what projects you want to do? Hey, (Warner properties) Turner, Cartoon Network, here is what viewers are actually looking at. Can you take this information and learn more about your business?’”…

…Both AT&T and Verizon face huge hurdles as they begin to vie for parts of the market against massive players in the digital media space. Having a major presence in both the media and wireless worlds will provide access to enormous amounts of data, Stephens said.

Photo: data by CyberHades used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Comments are closed.