Stop Press: How Covid-19 is only part of the media layoffs story
Stop Press

Stop Press: How Covid-19 is only part of the media layoffs story

A weekly newsletter to help you track the news media ecosystem and make sense of it.

By Chitranshu Tewari

Published on :

Welcome to Stop Press by Chitranshu Tewari, a weekly newsletter to break down the trends, innovations and news on the media ecosystem. To get it in your inbox every Saturday, sign up here.

Lead 🕶️

If you even remotely follow the media ecosystem, news about layoffs must be finding place in your feeds everyday. As the magnitude of Covid-19’s impact becomes clearer, publishers of all sizes and types — legacy, niche, print, digital, broadcast, local — are either laying off employees or enforcing pay cuts.

Most memos and emails announcing downsizing have talked about the impact of Covid-19 on the industry: cost rationalisation to help stay afloat.

Indian dailies

Even before Covid-19 took over everything, the circulation and readership of dailies saw significant drops in quarters leading up to 2020. For example, according to data put out by the Indian Readership Survey, Hindustan Times’ average issue readership numbers fell by as much as 21 over the first two quarters of 2019.

Such was the impact that multiple editions shut down in 2019. To name a few: DNA shut down its Delhi edition in February, and its Mumbai and Ahmedabad editions closed in October. Deccan Chronicle axed its Kerala and Bengaluru editions in December. Firstpost shut down its weekly English language newspaper in June.

Source: Indian Readership Survey. In the case of dailies, average issue readership is the number of readers who read the newspaper the day before.
Source: Indian Readership Survey. In the case of dailies, average issue readership is the number of readers who read the newspaper the day before.

What this means is that even in pre-Covid times, newspapers were struggling with a drop in circulation and hence, an impact on advertisement revenue.

Here’s what the Indian Newspaper Society said in July 2019, in a plea to the finance minister to roll back the customs duty on imported newsprint:

"Publishers of newspapers and magazines are already reeling under severe financial pressure due to many factors like lower advertisement revenues, higher costs and digital onslaught from technological giants. Small and medium newspapers will go into deeper losses and many of them will be forced to close down."

Quartz, Buzzfeed, Vice

There has been renewed focus on the role played by Facebook and Google in the shrinking of the ad revenue pie of news publishers. In fact, Vice chief executive officer Nancy Dubac gave it ample attention in her memo earlier this month, when Vice laid off about 150 employees:

“...We aren’t seeing the return from the platforms benefiting and making money from our hard work. Now, after many years of this, the squeeze is becoming a chokehold. Platforms are not just taking a larger slice of the pie, but almost the whole pie.”

In his note at the beginning of the year, Jonah Peretti, the CEO and co-founder of Buzzfeed, talked about “building a better model for journalism”, calling the company a “free, global, cross-platform media network”. Months later, Buzzfeed closed down its Australia and UK news operations.

Is Covid really the sole driver for Buzzfeed’s down-sized operations? In short, no.

“Like many journalists, Peretti mistook the reach of his company’s content rather than its financial firepower as a marker of its scale. In his grandiose 2014 memo to staff, Peretti wrote: ‘BuzzFeed reaches…more people globally than the print circulation of all the biggest newspapers or magazines, and as we continue to expand internationally, the benefits of this scale will become even more dramatic. The golden age of media never saw numbers this big.’” (Jane Martinson, The Guardian)

For the longest time, Quartz was among the publishers that was looked up to for innovations in native advertising. Marissa Hayes Aydlett, Quartz’s global marketing vice-president, said: “We built Quartz with two things in mind. The first was building it to be mobile-first and second was to build an experience around the ads.”

Cut to Q1 2020:

Source: Uzabase financial results
Source: Uzabase financial resultsuzabase.com

Buzzfeed, Vox, Vice and Quartz are, in many ways, the cream of the digital news ecosystem. In the past, each has talked about disrupting the space, with its innovation in content, revenue and distribution. Yet either they missed the “pivot” to reader support or joined very late, while continuing to rely heavily on advertising.

The point is that layoffs done in the name of staying afloat and cost rationalisation are as much about the changes in how news is consumed, as they are to the dynamics of how the ecosystem works — from big tech taking away the advertisement dollars to the downsides of running global large operations. Whether it's global digital news brands or legacy dailies in India, Covid-19 may have escalated the impact. But seeing it as the sole driver for layoffs is only a misreading of the current crisis.

As Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University noted: “It’s an acceleration of a trend that’s been going on for a decade.”

At Newslaundry, we believed in an ad-free business model right from the very start. Our funda was clear and simple: When advertisers pay, advertisers are served, and when the public pays, the public is served. In the last four years, our subscribers have not only kept Newslaundry afloat but changed the news model in India. Click here to #PayToKeepNewsFree.

Homebrewed

Who owns your media

Back in 2014, when we put out infographics looking into the ownership patterns of media houses, the idea of media transparency and ownership was new. Six years later, while media literacy has gone up, there's still a lot of secrecy in media ownership. The renewed effort kicks off with Zee News, Dainik Bhaskar and ABP News.

The inside story of Zee News becoming a Covid-19 hotspot

Sudhir Chaudhary spent considerable time on his shows villainising those who attended the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz for spreading coronavirus. Yet he demanded 100 percent attendance in his office during the lockdown — despite government directives to the contrary. More than 28 employees of Zee Media have now tested positive.

The battle over media layoffs in the Supreme Court

Three journalist associations are fighting a legal case to suspend all terminations, furloughs and layoffs in the Indian media.

The Telegraph: Tough on Modi, soft on Mamata

There's a glaring contrast in the newspaper’s approaches to covering the Covid response by the central government and the Bengal government.

Chug it out

”Guantánamo’s Darkest Sauce” is a twice-told tale — but it's the New Yorker's version that wins the Pulitzer Prize

Rafia Zakaria is one of my favorite authors. If you’re going to click on only a couple of links from this newsletter, let this be one of them.

New kid on the block: Rest of the World

Led by Sophie Schmidt, an industry veteran and daughter of billionaire Eric Schmidt, it’s pitch is: “global nonprofit publication covering the impact of technology beyond the Western bubble”. Both the pitch and launch stories are quite fascinating, including this one:

Platforms

Facebook bought Giphy for USD 400 million

Why? TL;DR: GIFs are central to how we communicate online. GIphy alone serves seven millions GIFs per day. The acquisition will lead to stronger integrations with Facebook products, and Facebook will get an insight into GIF behaviour on other platforms like Twitter, iMessage and TikTok. So, data 🤑. Instagram head Adam Mosseri told Axios that it’s not about harvesting data though.

🎧 How a Swedish national came from nowhere to rule the internet and took on mainstream culture and institutions

If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know who PewDiePie is, this is a deep dive to follow his story and how it embodied the fight between internet culture and mainstream institutions — from the Washington Post to T-Series.

Australian watchdog is asking publishers to boycott Facebook and Google to get them to pay for news

Covid-19 has escalated the clamour and demand for regulating big tech. A lot of governments are deliberating some form of regulation with a difference in approaches. Do you think it's worth it to look at it for the next lead?

Instagram adds wellness guides and recommendations on Covid-19

Catch up

Joe Rogan moves to Spotify

The biggest name in the world of podcasts will soon only be available on Spotify. This follows a string of acquisitions like Anchor, Gimlet Media and Ringer. Spotify is moving really fast to establish its dominance in the podcast world.

How a copy of the Ken's story led to Google deleting the very same story from its index

“Someone copied some bit of The Ken’s investigative story and published a backdated post on some anonymous blog, then filed a DMCA notice to get The Ken’s story removed from Google’s search results, and then conveniently deleted the copied content. No dead body, no gun, no evidence. The perfect crime!”

The Print has launched a subscription programme

If one’s to go by Shekhar Gupta’s Cut the Clutter, his show will be going behind the paywall soon. It will be interesting to see how many of the show’s lakhs of daily viewers will pay then.

NYT is phasing out all 3rd-party advertising data

What that means is that it will stop tracking pixels from Facebook and Twitter to track its users' browser history. But…

https://twitter.com/antoniogm/status/1262750234649571339

Resources

A journalist’s guide to using Zoom for community engagement

Are you working in a reader-supported newsroom and looking for ways to engage with your members on Zoom? We just did ours: NL Chatbox.

🎧 What makes Planet Money one of the best NPR podcasts?

For their 1,000th episode, they let us in on their secrets.

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This was the third edition of Stop Press, an effort that is primarily an exercise to learn more about the hows and why of the news ecosystem. For suggestions and feedback, do write to chitranshu@newslaundry.com.

Most media commentary and analysis is usually on editorial subjects, or cold numbers tracking the media industry. Product and the economics of the ecosystem are mostly missed out on. Stop Press aims to bridge that gap.

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