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In this edition: A scrum over the Telegraph, Oscars buzz and a takedown of that viral chart.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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March 10, 2024


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where we’re hoping to slip in “Dune: Part Two” before the Oscars.

All media, as Tip O’Neill said of politics, is local.

And yet media, like politics, is an increasingly global story, one that can be hard to take in from a narrowly American perspective. Three of the 10 Oscar nominees for Best Picture tonight will be non-American, a mark of a globalizing Hollywood that has been absorbing international talent and distributing on streaming platforms worldwide.

We think about these tensions constantly at Semafor, where our mission is tied to bringing in global perspectives on complex issues. The great news stories — the rise of the right, COVID, social media — can only be understood through a global lens. And yet, there’s a very hard limit to how much anyone wants to hear about how much Donald Trump’s Republican Party mirrors shifts in Portuguese politics, or how much his haircut looks like Javier Milei’s.

I got a clear sense of that on “Morning Joe” last week, where I was talking about our new Global Election Hub — a tool for seeing and talking about tectonic shifts in global politics. Joe Scarborough started musing about the surprising moderation of the Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, then switched to arguing — on air — with his executive producer, who was only going to let talk of Italian politics go on for so long! (I also spoke to Press Gazette’s Bron Maher a bit more about the Hub.)

Fortunately for me this week, a great American protagonist, Jeff Zucker, is an innocent abroad in the shark pit that is British media. More on that below, along with Oscars reading, a Gaza debate at The Wall Street Journal, and a viral media chart that isn’t as simple as it looks. (Scoop count: 3)

Yet another huge media story this week: Congress’ abrupt move to force a sale of TikTok. Kadia Goba and Morgan Chalfant scooped Friday that Republican House leaders were pressing ahead with the move, and defying Donald Trump. There’ll be more coverage of that question, and the inside story of Washington, in our Principals Newsletter. Sign up here.

About the Oscars
Actress Olivia Wilde and Messi the dog attend an event promoting "Anatomy of a Fall."
Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

As you prepare to watch Jimmy Kimmel hand out 23 awards on ABC (but not Disney+), here’s some of the best writing on this year’s ceremony.

Dogtroversy: Our favorite Oscars controversy, though we’re reliably informed nobody in Hollywood actually cares: After Messi, the border collie who plays Snoop (also a dog) in Anatomy of a Fall, stole the show at a luncheon for nominees despite not technically being a nominee himself, “multiple companies with nominated films complained to the Academy” that he could influence voters.

Frontrunning: “Oppenheimer” has been the frontrunner from the start, as a movie that obliterated the tension between prestige film and blockbuster, Vulture concludes: “This is a three-hour art film about nuclear physics that was also one of the biggest hits of the year, a morally rigorous drama that climaxed with a big-ass explosion, a Great Man biopic and a World War II movie and a feast for meme-addled teens.”

Netflix wipeout: Netflix can’t seem to win at the Oscars: “It’s almost too easy to get people to watch its movies,” including mediocre ones, Julia Alexander explains in Puck. New film chief Dan Lin is expected to churn out a mere 20-30 films a year — half the boom-year volume — which could mean a pivot to quality.

Leading man: The night’s biggest award drama is around Best Actor, writes The Ankler’s Gregg Kilday, as Cillian Murphy’s J. Robert Oppenheimer faces off against Paul Giamatti from The Holdovers.

Scripted: A messy plagiarism fight over “The Holdovers” has broken out, with a veteran writer citing similarities to a script he wrote about a doctor taking care of a 15-year-old boy.

DEI: The 2024 ceremony will be the first Oscars in which producers comply with diversity rules that have been criticized for, variously, being extremely easy to comply with and not including Jews as a minority category, the Times reports.

Thinner: “This year, the most prominent designers on the red carpet are Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, whose injectable weight-loss drugs are the new couture,” Allen Salkin writes in The Ankler.

Mysteries: “Writers’ lives as depicted in French films continue to be things of great mystery,” begins A.S. Hamrah’s delightfully scabrous series of capsule reviews of the contenders in n+1.

Ben Smith

The transatlantic fight for The Telegraph

Jeff Zucker in 2019.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

A British regulator will decide Monday whether to allow the Abu Dhabi-backed investment group Redbird IMI, represented by former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, to take control of The Telegraph, or whether to move the deal to another stage of review and give its opponents more time to kill it.

The decision by Culture Minister Lucy Frazier will have long-term consequences for British politics.

But the process has also set the stage for global media’s most confusing and entertaining public meltdown, in which the former CNN chairman finds himself in an escalating personal battle with the bombastic 74-year old Scottish Tory media grandee Andrew Neil.

To hear Zucker tell it, as he did on the influential “The News Agents” podcast Friday, a straightforward American news executive looking to invest in a great newspaper is standing up to tricksy natives.

Zucker says he discovered that Neil, a former Sunday Times editor and BBC presenter who currently chairs The Spectator, is “quite the hypocrite.” Zucker says Neil sought a job as chairman of a combined Spectator and Telegraph, and only turned on the deal after Zucker spurned him. “We said no thanks, and ever since that day he’s been one of our most vocal critics,” Zucker said. “Gimme a break.”

In Neil’s telling, it’s a different story as old as time: arrogant, big money Americans stomping on British folkways. Or, as he put it in an email to me, “When Zuckie came on the scene we were dealing with someone who was ignorant of Britain, British media and British newspapers/magazines and was basically a front for Arab money. We didn’t know he was also a liar. Now we do.”

Read more for the details of their dispute, what's at stake, and which British media companies are more interesting than The Telegraph. →

One Good Text

Terry Press is a Hollywood strategy and marketing executive.


Semafor’s comms chief Meera Pattni has been putting together a spreadsheet of recently laid-off media workers hunting for their next gig. There’s a lot of great journalists out there right now without full-time employment.


✦ Marketing

About that chart: TalkingPointsMemo founder Josh Marshall drew attention last week with a chart showing his revenue from programmatic advertising dropping from $1.7 million in 2016 to $75,000 last year. It seemed like a stark illustration of the declining digital media business. But it was a dramatic oversimplification. It’s true that programmatic advertising has failed to provide publishers the kind of revenue print ads did in the good old days. And TPM, like other publishers, faced flattening ad rates, declining traffic from social media, and advertisers who steer away from news, often in favor of garbage “made for advertising” sites.

But TPM responded — reasonably — to the shifting ecosystem by pivoting to subscriptions and putting up a paywall, reducing traffic and ad impressions. The drop in ad revenue is a feature, not a bug, of that strategy. Meanwhile programmatic ad rates, for instance, have actually increased — modestly — over the period that Marshall’s chart covers. “No one who has shared this tweet or chart understands it!” groused the former Gawker and Hearst exec Ryan Brown.

“The money is still there,” said Foster Kamer, another online media veteran who is the editor-in-chief of Futurism and who told Semafor the TPM post is “sensationalist bs.” “Posting a chart of your programmatic going down as evidence of media dying is like posting a chart of your net worth going down as evidence that the dollar doesn’t go as far. There, uh, may be other factors involved!”

There’s a deeper truth here that programmatic advertising commoditized and devalued quality, while Facebook and Google swallowed the old advertising revenue that supported news. Now programmatic ads can support only very modest investments in journalism. But it’s never as simple as viral charts suggest.

Selling Jesus: Has anyone else noticed the Christian marketers are on a roll? From that attention-getting Super Bowl spot — which landed directly on the cultural divisions every other admaker was desperately avoiding — to this New York City subway campaign for a Bible app, that’s some good creative. It helps, as they say, to believe in the product.

In defense of DEI: The PR maestro Richard Edelman calls on companies to defend DEI: “Diversity [and] inclusion is a bottom-line benefit.”

⁋ Publishing

Letter to the editor: Some staff at The Wall Street Journal are frustrated that the paper’s leaders have not signed on to an open letter condemning the deaths of dozens of journalists in Gaza.

Earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a letter saying that reporters covering fighting in Gaza are noncombatants and need to be protected by Israeli authorities operating in the region. “Those responsible for any violations of that longstanding protection should be held accountable,” the letter said. “Attacks on journalists are also attacks on truth.”

The letter received widespread support, garnering signatures from top editorial figures at The New York Times, The Associated Press, ABC News, the BBC, CBC News, and the Washington Post, among others. But the Journal’s name was absent. According to one person familiar with the situation, Journal editor-in-chief Emma Tucker presented the letter to publisher Almar Latour, who declined to sign it. The paper has told staff that the Journal has a longstanding policy of not signing letters, though some frustrated staff privately noted to Semafor that the paper had signed onto a similar CPJ letter calling for Russia to release Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been held in Russia for nearly a year. — Max Tani

Power lunch RIP: Air Mail takes a clinical look at Michael’s, the last ‘80s media power lunch spot that’s still hanging on, and muses that “the media power lunch always towered over the rest. The crowd had better clothes, bigger personalities, a higher tolerance for alcohol, more creative and interesting work, and a higher proportion of women, balancing out the gender makeup of the dining room. Every big media center had a media power lunch, but nobody did it quite like New York, the media center of the universe.”

Newsletter hire: The former WSJ EIC Matt Murray will be a contributing editor to John Ellis’ excellent subscription newsletter News Items — motto: “interesting, important, or both” — which was an inspiration for some Semafor products.

Good trend: The culture writer Sarah Hepola will be writing a column in her hometown Dallas News.

☊ Audio

Drudged: “Why did he turn so hard against Trump in 2020?” Megyn Kelly asks Chris Moody and Jamie Weinstein of their new podcast about Matt Drudge. The mystery man himself has questions, but no answers.

⁜ Tech

Micro news: Veterans of Gizmodo and CNET are set to announce tomorrow the launch of Micro Center News, an online reviews arm of the tech retailer Micro Center. Former Gizmodo EIC Dan Ackerman tells Semafor he will be leading the site and bringing on a team of in-house content creators and contributors from publications including CNET, WSJ, Gizmodo, WIRED, and The Verge.

New York News Ежедневно: The New York Times finds a new wave of fake, Russian-backed sites.

⁛ News

Every web editor’s nightmare: Washington Post reporters were briefly frustrated after the paper’s content management system crashed on Thursday night in the moments after the State of the Union, according to someone familiar with the outage, causing internal panic and preventing the paper from updating its SOTU pieces for hours.

Dept. of Capitalism: Much mirth in the finance press at a New York Times article that referred to “cash-like assets called capital,” a novel and inaccurate definition of a foundational term. Quoth the FT’s Sujeet Indap: “🧐🧐🧐”

Free Evan: Time’s Charlotte Alter reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is wary of making an exchange that might be seen as a victory for Biden.”

Congo case: Congolese authorities are seeking to jail Stanis Bujakera for 20 years in a case over an article in the influential regional publication Jeune Afrique that implicated military intelligence in the slaying of an opposition politician — an article editors say he didn’t actually write. The Committee to Protect Journalists is pressing for his release.

Stalin’s media management: A New York Review piece on the challenges of covering Russia includes this recollection from a foreign correspondent in the Stalin era: “Many correspondents do not leave the hotel for weeks in winter but rely on secretaries and newspapers. Secretary orders breakfast in the morning, arranges pillow under your head while you eat it, shops for cigarettes and vodka, translates, interprets, teaches you Russian and sometimes goes to bed with you. In exchange the correspondent brings back titbits from the dining room—bread, cake, cheese and meat.”

⁌ TV

Proxy wars: Britain’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom, ruled in favor of Iran International, an independent TV outlet backed by Saudi figures, against Al Jazeera. A pro-regime academic claimed in a live interview with the Qatar-backed global network that “these Persian media channels like BBC Persian, VOA, Iran International, and other outlets … encourage the murder of police officers.” The broadcast was “unfair or unjust,” Ofcom found.

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