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A big Max scoop on the Washington front, shockingly bad numbers from the Los Angeles times, and more͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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June 18, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where — sorry! — we’re spending the week reporting from the ad-industry boondoggle known as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

And even here on the Riviera, you can feel this intense moment of cultural backlash.

Cannes Lions started in 1954 as advertising’s answer to the swankier Cannes film festival in May. And while a lot of business gets done here, the heart of the event is still a nightly awards ceremony in in the Palais des Festivals, where juries will give away nearly a thousand awards this week.

Four people familiar with the preparations for the event told me that this year’s juries have been given a new set of instructions: Take it easy on the “purpose” advertising — industry shorthand for social justice award-bait — and instead celebrate to lighthearted ad campaigns that sell stuff.

I’ll have the details of that scoop in full in our daily Cannes newsletter, which you can subscribe to with one click here.

ALSO: A big Max scoop on the Washington front, where he got a hold of an 85-page report assembled for wealthy progressives worried about the decline of Vice, BuzzFeed News, Mic, and the rest — and thinking about where to place their bets. And shockingly bad numbers from the Los Angeles Times, and more tidbits from the Riviera.

Box Score

Cannes: The ad industry is descending on the Riviera with more than €112 million in expected spending, lavish beach installations, awards, and inadvertent and deliberate self-satire, including an online game whose goal is sinking yachts and the holding company CEOs who occupy them.

Greenville, NC: The dominant YouTuber Mr. Beast is stepping away from the Beast Burger business. “Young beast signed a bad deal,” he tweeted forlornly.@gavinpurcell

New York: AI companies Google, Microsoft, and Adobe have been meeting publishers including News Corp, Axel Springer, and The New York Times for high-stakes negotiations over paying to train bots on the news. — FT

Max Tani

Liberal activists want to buy your local TV station

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images


Progressive media activists, rattled by the collapse of a generation of youth-oriented digital news outlets like Vice and BuzzFeed News, are pushing wealthy Democrats to invest in for-profit media companies and social media influencers.

That’s the conclusion of an 85-page report, obtained by Semafor, prepared for a gathering of progressive leaders in Washington, D.C. last month.

The report calls for “diverting a share of the investment that’s going into exclusively cause-funded nonprofits towards sponsored content and into direct investment in hybrid and for-profit enterprises with large audiences.

“Likewise, rather than continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on TV ads, we believe that there is more long-term value for nonprofit investors — ranging from civic media focused philanthropies to mission-driven SuperPAC investors — in diverting a share of that investment into sponsoring topical reporting in a for-profit, or simply in buying some of the stations on which they are now advertising,” the report says.

Titled “Analysis of the Changing U.S. News Media Landscape and Strategies Toward Delivering Civic Value,” the report also suggested backing social media influencers and networks of non-traditional journalists who reach audiences not served by mainstream news outlets. And it recommended creating or backing hybrid non-profit/for-profit newsrooms, and buying unwanted or run-down local television networks that still generate revenue and serve as vital resources for local community news and bulwarks against local gossip on sites like Nextdoor.


The report and the meeting are part of a push by liberal activists to rethink their approach to influencing politics through the media on a local level.

Over the past several years, liberal groups and individuals have experimented with a number of new initiatives to reach news deserts and fight right-leaning local news behemoths like Sinclair.

  • Accelerate Change, which is backed by Soros’s Open Society Foundations, scooped up NowThis earlier this year. According to one person with knowledge of the company’s plan, the organization will use the platform in a more explicitly activist form.
  • Democratic operative Tara McGowan sunk millions into Meta’s advertising network during the 2022 midterm elections to boost Courier Newsroom, a network of local news sites that Wired dubbed the “antidote to bad information” from the right.
  • Hogan, one of the report’s authors, is the executive editor of Heartland Signal, a new regional digital newsroom linked to the progressive radio station WCPT 820AM in Chicago. The newsroom has paired aggressive, left-leaning local reporting with progressive AM radio.

One unconventional theme of the report is that progressives should challenge conservative dominance in local television and talk radio, which goes unmatched on the left.

The report also argued that just backing meaningful print journalism or National Public Radio programming (both of which get a lot of support from left-leaning and philanthropic backers) doesn’t lead to coverage that finds its way to non-liberal audiences in a substantial way.

Saving progressive media may be a tough sell. But Soros’s Open Society Foundations have already embarked on something like the strategy detailed in the report. Along with NowThis, they’ve invested in media ranging from the now-bankrupt Vice to a group of Spanish-language radio stations.

For Know More and Room for Disagreement, read here.

One Good Text

Lorraine Twohill is the chief marketing officer of Google.


Twitter beach: The biggest non-story of the Cannes Lions festival so far is Twitter, which gave up its prized beach space to an influencer agency, Influential. The new CEO, Linda Yaccarino, will skip the iconic ad festival, a spokesman said, and Elon Musk’s jet flew back home Saturday after a conference in Paris.

The Greatest: Apple’s moving campaign featuring disabled people thriving on its products neatly walks between “purpose” and selling phones Everyone we talk to expects the campaign to clean up at the Cannes Lions festival.

Down the Gutter: Every year, the 72 Croisette, a pricey brasserie conveniently located on La Croisette, turns into the Gutter Bar, Cannes Lions’ infamous late-night watering hole. Semafor Riviera correspondent Jules Darmanin caught up with Ben Haykel, the bar’s manager, as he was gearing up for his biggest week of the year by far.

Haykel is tripling his staff to pour down 1200 liters of beer every night of the week to as many as 1600 patrons. “We got some calls from people at Apple and Google” ahead of the festival, he said.

Haykel is not too worried about drunken, 5 a.m. brawls between competing creative directors. Part of it is thanks to the three security agents he has for the week, and the two police vans that he is expecting to be there. But he also has a theory. Americans, who make up the largest group of his Lions clientele, tend to be less rowdy than European drunkards. “Even when they’re completely wasted, they’re all right ... We just sit them down and get them a coffee.”

Old Media: Los Angeles Times remains heavily dependent on print, with about 70% of its projected $232.5 million in revenue this year coming from the declining dead tree product.

The data emerged in a bleak presentation from executives to employees to explain plans to cut 70 newsroom jobs. There, the paper’s chief operation’s officer showed a chart showing the paper has lost nearly one million print subscribers over the past 20 years, without making up the difference in digital subscribers. The only bright spot is an 8% increase in digital subscription revenue, to $38 million, but even digital advertising is expected to fall 7% this year.

Shanked it: Top golf journalist Sujeet Indap points out that we misplaced the Florida-based PGA Tour in last week’s newsletter, and confused it with the Texas-based PGA of America, a distinct organization.

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