2019 was a transformative year for the U.S. news media industry, but it was also one of the most turbulent points in its history.
The big picture: There were enormous business challenges, which resulted in an unprecedented number of layoffs, desperate product maneuvers and fire-sale deals.
Driving the news: The impeachment of President Trump by the House of Representatives on Thursday was prompted by a whistleblower’s complaint, but the stage was set by the dogged reporting of many journalists across the country.
- But despite those efforts, the economic outlook of the news industry is still grim heading into 2020.
- The impeachment process has proven that voters are starting to tune out political coverage, which for the past few years has been the news industry’s biggest money-maker. That reality, coupled with an anticipated recession, has newsrooms on edge.
Where things stand: 2019 was a particularly brutal year for older news industries, like newspapers, magazines, television and radio. Revenue for television was down nearly 4% this year, and for print it was down nearly 20%.
- Legacy magazine brands that were once considered must-reads, like Sports Illustrated, struggled to find suitors. Magazine titans like Conde Nast are expected to miss their revenue numbers given a bleak advertising forecast.
- Univision, one of the largest media companies that serves America’s fastest-growing population, is looking for a buyer to help it crawl out of a massive debt hole, driven by a private equity investment gone bad.
Be smart: Legacy industries still continue to serve local news markets, which are mostly void of the same investments financially, and in tech and talent, as national outlets.
- The two biggest local newspaper holding groups — New Media (GateHouse and Gannett) and McClatchy, which collectively house over 700 newspapers — had a combined market cap value as of Thursday of less than $400 million. By comparison, Apple, which this year launched its own news product, is worth more than $1.2 trillion.
- Meanwhile, several other papers serving major markets closed, like the 150-year-old Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio and the beloved OC Weekly in California.
Regulators, aware of the realities that legacy industries and local media face in a digital world, continued efforts to level the playing field this year, mostly by trying to roll back decades-old rules and legal agreements that may be keeping them from growing.
- But their efforts have proven mostly moot, as most consumers have already migrated away from those mediums to a handful of apps owned by Silicon Valley titans.
- Policymakers did began to more meaningfully consider regulating internet giants in 2019, but a gridlocked Congress and powerful lobbying forces have so far prevented any meaningful internet regulation from getting passed.
In the markets, a string of highly-anticipated IPOs faltered in 2019, which forced investors in private media companies to push for quicker paths to profit.
- Given that news is traditionally a slow-growth business, many desperate efforts to make money quickly, like launching half-baked subscription or video products, fell short.
- For some media upstarts, that pressure proved perilous. Splinter, the left-leaning news and opinion site, shut down this year after its parent company, G/O Media, was purchased by a private equity company for less than half of what it was worth just three years earlier.
- Its sister company, Deadspin, is now essentially defunct.
The big picture: As a result of these realities, investor sentiment in digital media has begun to slip, and investments in the sector are predicted to decline in the next decade.
- That matters because over the past few years, private investment into media companies soared, at all levels.
- Many of the venture-backed media companies that were expected to go public eventually, like Buzzfeed and Vice Media, no longer seem heading in that direction. Disney this year wrote down all of the $400 million it invested in Vice.
Between the lines: These challenges took a human toll on journalists and news industry employees around the country. By some estimates, nearly 8,000 people were laid off or lost their jobs in media in 2019. That level of attrition is on pace to be the highest it’s been since the 2009 recession.
Yes, but: The challenges that most media companies face have forced them to innovate faster, and in many cases, reach new heights.
- Most media companies distribute content to far more people than ever before through dozens of new channels ranging from Netflix to TikTok.
- Many broke stories this year that will define our generation, like The Washington Post’s investigation into the decades-long lies told by officials about the war in Afghanistan or The Miami Herald’s explosive reporting about Jeffrey Epstein.
The bottom line: But despite those feats, news media companies as a whole have mostly suffered — and there’s no sign that the economic outlook is going to get better any time soon.
Can’t comment on NewsClick’s China link, respect media freedom: US
The US government has seen reports of NewsClick’s alleged links to China and is aware of concerns around it though it can’t independently comment on the veracity of those claims. But, as a general principle, the US continues to urge Indian government as well other governments across the world to respect the human rights of journalists, including freedom of expression online and offline.
At a regular State Department briefing on Tuesday, when asked about the raids on the proprietors, staffers and contributors of NewsClick and a New York Times report that the news website was a part of a Chinese influence operation funded through an American businessman, State department‘s principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said, “So we are aware of those concerns and have seen that reporting about this outlet’s ties to the PRC (People’s Republic of China), but we can’t comment yet on the veracity of those claims.”
Patel added that, separately, the US strongly supported “the robust role of the media globally, including social media, in a vibrant and free democracy”.
“We raise concerns on these matters with the Indian Government, with countries around the world, through our diplomatic engagements that are, of course, at the core of our bilateral relationship. And we have urged the Indian Government, and have done so not just with India but other countries as well, about the importance of respecting the human rights of journalists, including freedom of expression both online and offline.”
Patel, however, said that he did not have any additional information about “this particular circumstance or any of the underlying issues that may or may not be related to this outlet”.
India’s Latest Media Arrests Put Washington in an Awkward Spot
(Bloomberg) — India’s latest media crackdown puts the US in an awkward position as it seeks to balance promotion of human rights with courting New Delhi to counter the influence of China.
Police in the South Asian country’s capital arrested the editor-in-chief and another employee of online newspaper NewsClick Tuesday under sweeping anti-terrorism laws. Authorities also raided the offices of the publication, without giving a reason.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been targeting critical independent media since he took office in 2014. NewsClick came to prominence in 2021 for its extensive coverage of farmer protests against government plans to liberalize agriculture. India has previously accused the media organization of having funding ties to China, which it denies.
For Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based political analyst, the arrests create a challenge for Washington.
“The US does not want to get too involved in India’s domestic affairs,” she said. “They are looking at India through a geopolitical prism and with China in the picture, India is a strategic partner.”
US Department of State spokesman Vedant Patel said he couldn’t comment yet on claims NewsClick has ties to China.
Patel also stressed the importance of press freedom globally. “We raise concerns on these matters with the Indian government, with countries around the world,” he told reporters in Washington.
India has often argued its democracy and vibrant press are a counterpoint to China with its one-party state and heavily controlled media. The US frequently finds itself torn between its efforts to defend human rights around the world and the pragmatic need to partner with governments accused of rights abuses.
India’s government has often used its anti-terrorism law to intimidate and punish journalists. The law, which doesn’t allow for bail, empowers the police to detain suspects for years without leveling official charges.
India has also scrutinized many mobile app and technology companies for alleged links to China after a Himalayan border clash between New Delhi and Beijing in 2020.
In 2021, authorities raided NewsClick’s office and the homes of seven staff members for what they described as improper foreign investments. Several of them were questioned and NewsClick called the allegations “misleading, unfounded and without basis in fact or law.”
In August, the New York Times cited NewsClick as an organization allegedly being used for Chinese propaganda overseas. India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said at the time the media outlet was being funded by Beijing.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Thakur said he didn’t need to justify the raids. “If someone has done something wrong, the investigative agencies will work on it,” he said.
NewClick’s human resources head Amit Chakravarty was also arrested. Several employees’ laptops and mobile phones were seized. Local media reported at least 30 premises were raided, including the homes of six NewsClick reporters.
India fell to 161st of 180 countries and territories in a press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders, a press advocacy group, this year. In February, authorities raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi, weeks after the British broadcaster aired a documentary about Modi’s role in 2002 riots in his home state of Gujarat.
Last year, Mohammad Zubair, a journalist running a fact-checking website, Alt News, was arrested after highlighting anti-Islamic comments made by former BJP officials.
The Press Club of India expressed concern about the arrests and raid, saying it wants the government to explain its actions. The group plans to protest the detentions at a march Wednesday.
Jerath, the analyst, questioned India’s move to arrest the people under the terrorism law without providing details or evidence.
“You have already labeled them as terrorists,” she said.
(Updates with details on the crackdown. An earlier story corrected paragraph 11 to show authorities raided the homes of seven NewsClick staff members in 2021.)
What is NewsClick? A look at India’s media crackdown – Al Jazeera English
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