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​In this edition: The WHCA dinner and New Yorker succession plans.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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April 29, 2024


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where the center of the world remains New York.

An extraordinary week of news played out like that famous old New Yorker cover, the backdrops ranging from Manhattan’s courtrooms, to its campuses, to all the way up the Hudson River to Albany, where the state’s top court overturned Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 rape conviction.

The Weinstein reversal crystallized the biggest story of this new decade: a cultural backlash.

Its breadth is easy to miss in elite media. Journalists who live in Brooklyn love to write (and read) about radical experiments in family, as with the Times’ legendary story about a 20-person polycule. (OK, everyone liked that one.)

But the bigger story, in the Times this same week, was about the rise of a vast new American subculture built around the hypermasculinity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

What a moment for any institution — whether the United States government or, as Max discusses below, in a piece that will make the Great Mentioner blush, The New Yorker — to pick a new leader.

Also today: The media news from the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, familiar faces back on-air at CNN, and a changing of the guard at Business Insider. (Scoop count: 5)

Assignment Desk
Scarlett Johansson at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP

Every editor in Washington this weekend assigned the same story: Washington’s weekend of parties feels different, as a possible second Trump administration looms. But the truth is that Washington is a kind of political time capsule, and my overwhelming sense at the White House Correspondents’ festivities was how little things have changed.

To wit: At the most exclusive party of the weekend, an NBCU event at the French ambassador’s residence where Scarlett Johansson held court, I was chatting with my old colleague, the star Politico columnist Jonathan Martin.

A young woman asked him if he could move because her boss was hoping to sit down. Martin asked who her boss was, and she answered “Lorne,” referring to legendary Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels. But it was noisy. “From the FTC?” Martin asked, puzzled. She tried to explain, but he was unimpressed and held on to the chair. It’s still Washington!

Max Tani

The New Yorker’s succession race is kicking off

Al Lucca/Semafor

After a nine-month span in 2020, in which social media furors forced the resignations of editors at Condé Nast titles like Bon Appétit and Teen Vogue, as well as a top video executive, Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch and human resources chief Stan Duncan decided they’d better be ready in case an editor gets hit by a bus or another cancellation.

The new regime is simple: Each year, each top executive at Condé Nast’s One World Trade Center headquarters submits a shortlist of four to six people who could replace them.

The lists remain secret. But none draws more internal speculation than the one assembled by New Yorker editor David Remnick. Remnick, 65, embodies a brand that sits atop American intellectual culture across literary fiction and liberal politics, and a magazine that has largely been held harmless from Condé’s slow, painful decline. But in recent months, the longtime New Yorker editor has increasingly mused to peers about his inevitable departure — and who might take his place.

Remnick, per three sources, will stay at least through next year’s celebration of the New Yorker’s centennial, which is expected to be threaded through the magazine’s coverage. The devoted community of New Yorker aficionados and insiders believe he might leave then, or when his tenure touches three decades in July 2028. He has told colleagues he doesn’t want to overstay his welcome.

“No institution worth its salt fails to think about the future, including succession, but I did sign a new contract recently and very happily,” Remnick told Semafor in an email. “Also, I’ve gotten extremely practiced at picking talking-dog cartoons over the years. We are training a new generation at this rarefied art, and we’ll see the results in due time.”

Read on for three slates of contenders and Max's analysis of what the right candidate will need to offer.  →

One Good Text

Former NBC reporter Ben Collins became CEO of The Onion last week when his media company — a joint venture with former Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson called Global Tetrahedron — bought it.


⁛ News

Homecoming: CNN hosts who were let go by the network’s previous leadership have found their way back onto its airwaves in recent weeks.

Former Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter, who was fired by former CNN chief Chris Licht, did a live hit for the network outside of the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday. He was brought on to react to former National Enquirer editor David Pecker’s testimony in former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial. Former legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has also become a regular on-air fixture on Anderson Cooper’s show lately, weighing in on the case and the death of O.J. Simpson. And former host Don Lemon made enough news with his interview with Elon Musk that he was invited back on to talk about it with Erin Burnett last month.

Meanwhile, CNN CEO Mark Thompson has begun making some big changes. Network insiders told Semafor that the network has increased its entertainment coverage, which was deprioritized under Licht, and has made changes to the website to prioritize images and reduce the number of links. One CNN insider said that Thompson has asked the business team for sharper, more original reporting. And Semafor has learned that in recent days, he met with the network’s White House team and expressed some frustration with recent coverage, which he described as too similar to the cable network’s competitors.

Calling in: White House and Biden campaign press staff spent the White House Correspondents’ Dinner weekend gloating about pissing off The New York Times, as a Politico article published on Thursday detailed. The Politico piece claimed publisher A.G. Sulzberger was pushing reporters to cover the president more critically because he’d continued to avoid an interview with the Times (something the Times denied in its response).

And on Thursday, the president once again brushed off the paper of record in favor of a lengthy sit-down with SiriusXM shock-jock Howard Stern.

During Semafor’s party Friday evening, White House communications director Ben LaBolt told me that one reason the White House settled on Stern was because he’s a means of reaching a broader audience of regular Americans, and because his team was impressed by Stern’s reach on YouTube. — Max

Russian crackdown: Moscow placed a Forbes Russia journalist on house arrest for “allegedly spreading fake news about the Russian armed forces” in a Telegram post about Bucha, and jailed two others for alleged connections to Alexei Navalny, as the space for independent reportage on key topics approaches zero.

French Fox: The new right-wing cable network CNews is changing French politics and media, and drawing criticism. In response, “CNews has gone on the offensive, predictably recasting [that scrutiny] as part of a coordinated effort to censor the channel, fueled by left-wing media clearly unsettled by its resounding success.”


Nicholas Carlson in 2022.
Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile for Collision

Business outsider: Business Insider top editor Nicholas Carlson is expected to leave the publication later this summer, according to people familiar with his plans. Carlson has been the global editor-in-chief of the digital news outlet since 2017.

But there have been moments of doubt between the current parent company and Carlson’s leadership. Semafor reported last week that Mathias Döpfner, CEO of BI parent Axel Springer, considered firing Carlson during the backlash to the publication’s article about billionaire businessman Bill Ackman’s wife’s academic writing, which BI reported contained instances of plagiarism. Carlson did not respond to a request for comment.

McCarthy memoir? In recent months, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has privately met with publishers and literary agents about writing a book, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. Still, one publishing insider said that a deal has not yet materialized for the former Republican leader.

⁜ Tech

Tráfego: The last redoubt of the viral internet is Brazil where, former BuzzFeed editor Manuela Barem writes in Piaui, American influencers seek to “use the thousands of views that Brazil delivers as a springboard to increase profile engagement.”

How TikTok lost: The Wall Street Journal describes a “series of miscalculations that, in the end, left the Chinese-backed company scrambling for support among its users in ways that were ineffective or even backfired.”

✰ Hollywood

C-suite shakeup: It’s been a long weekend for Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish, following press reports on Thursday that he’s set to be pushed out of the company tomorrow.

Controlling shareholder Shari Redstone has expressed increasing frustration for months over Bakish’s inability to close major deals. For his part, Bakish has reportedly been among the many parties displeased with the planned merger with the media company Skydance. (The Journal has a deep-dive on the ongoing saga.)

☊ Audio

Jubilation: With its surprise hit double-album Diamond Jubilee, the lo-fi rock band Cindy Lee has defied two tenets of 2024 media conventional wisdom: that a Pitchfork review can’t make or break a career quite like it used to, and that artists need Spotify to succeed.

Pitchfork, now a part of GQ, awarded Diamond Jubilee with its highest album rating in four years, instantly leading the band to sell out U.S. live shows and driving positive press coverage elsewhere. And in the weeks since releasing its album exclusively on a Geocities website and YouTube, Diamond Jubilee has garnered over 350,000 views on the video streaming platform alone.

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