Welcome to Semafor Media, where we know the difference between on and off the record.
My partner-no-relation Justin Smith was asked on a podcast the other day about something I said last year when I left the New York Times: That Semafor sees a market of 200 million educated English-speakers around the world.
Did I get mocked a bit for this? I did!
But it was an observation I’d actually stolen from Justin, and he explained our strategy extremely clearly the other day on the PressGazette pod. We’ve begun with the “top of the pyramid” — you, dear reader — in a small set of verticals and in our curated global news, in the US and in sub-Saharan Africa. And we’ve thought, perhaps more than anything else, about how to cautiously sequence our growth from where we have begun toward our long-term vision.
This patience doesn’t come to me naturally, and wasn’t something I exercised much at BuzzFeed. But if you’re running a media company right now, you know we’ve entered an era where patience is required.
Thank you for coming along for the ride.
Read on for Max’s fabulous story of a previously unreported conflict around Linda Yaccarino’s time at NBCUniversal, for Nate Silver’s thoughts on gambling versus media, and for the best media pitch-deck slide you’ll see outside Succession.
And seriously, reply to this newsletter to let us know what we should be writing about. We’re on a nice run of scoops, but never enough.
Hollywood: The core economic issue in the actor’s strike is their demand for 2% of the revenue generated by streamers, with an outside audit to ensure transparency. — Variety
Boca Grade: Tucker Carlson and his old Daily Caller partner Neil Patel are creating a new media company. (Will it absorb The Daily Caller? If you know, tell us!) — WSJ
Tokyo: The anime streamer Crunchyroll has turned into a massive business for Sony, with more than 11 million paid subscribers. — Bloomberg
The retail stock trading company Robinhood hired the mad web news genius Josh Topolsky to create a media property, called Sherwood, earlier this year.. This is from Sherwood’s deck. Sorry to Jim Cramer!
When Linda Yaccarino arrived at Twitter in June, she brought along one close aide from NBCUniversal, a loyal and sometimes divisive PR hand named Joe Benarroch.
Unlike a traditional CEO, Yaccarino doesn’t seem to have much control over the company’s product, much less its chairman. She and Benarroch haven’t been able to stop Elon Musk from tweeting about his penis, or from sending an automated poop emoji in response to inquiries.
But the poop emoji does, now, have a human face, as Benarroch often follows up on reporters’ inquiries, largely to defend Yaccarino’s image even if he can’t control Twitter’s.
Yaccarino’s decision to bring the 44-year-old PR man with her from NBCU offers a glimpse into the gamble one of the ad industry’s biggest names has made with her career and reputation.
Benarroch joined NBCU in 2018 from Facebook, where he’d been a director of corporate comms marketing its advertising products. When he arrived at 30 Rock, he sought explicitly to make her a public figure along the lines of former Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg — an exception to the rule among Comcast’s low-profile executives, six people who worked with Benarroch at NBCU said.
Benarroch angled to get Yaccarino speaking engagements and panels, and his team regularly secured positive press in the advertising trades. His weekly update on his success, sent to dozens of NBCU communications staffers, prompted a mix of respect and eyerolls.
Yaccarino also spent heavily to polish her image internally and externally. While NBCU occasionally used Washington-based communications consultants West Wing Writers to punch up executive addresses at major corporate events, two NBCU insiders said Benarroch made the agency her unofficial creative writing team, enlisting the firm to enliven her media appearances, LinkedIn posts, and even internal memos.
Benarroch’s promotion of Yaccarino put him at odds with one of NBC’s most powerful figures, Executive Vice President Adam Miller, who oversees Comcast’s communications and is a close adviser to its top executives. Miller made no secret of his annoyance with Benarroch’s attempts to make Yaccarino a star, two people close to the company said.
Benarroch, in turn, filed at least two formal complaints to NBCU human resources that Miller was dismissive of Yaccarino, and suggested his attitude was connected to Yaccarino’s gender.
Benarroch was also particularly frustrated that NBCU didn’t pretend to consider Yaccarino for the CEO job in recent months when CEO Jeff Shell abruptly left the company. Benarroch and Yaccarino complained that Miller was waving journalists off the idea that Yaccarino would be CEO, though one person familiar with the conversations told Semafor that Miller had been dismissive of nearly all other internal candidates. (Miller declined to comment on his relationship with Benarroch.)
Benarroch was also the subject of complaints from junior colleagues. According to three people with direct knowledge of the incidents, he was the subject of an internal NBCU HR investigation following complaints made by his former assistant over his workplace behavior.
And as Yaccarino began angling for the CEO job at Twitter earlier this year, he wasn’t afraid to cross some company lines. When NBC News reporter Ben Collins tweeted about a Semafor story documenting advertisers’ concerns about Musk, Benarroch called to reprimand him, a rare instance of a business-side employee expressing criticism of a journalist’s editorial views.
Benarroch declined to comment on his time at NBCU or his new role.
For Max’s View and The View From Elon Musk, read here.
MSNBC warning: The head of standards at NBCUniversal, Christopher Scholl, sent a stern warning to on-air contributors at MSNBC last week: “Your actions reflect on the news division even when you are not on our air or contributing to our digital platforms, he wrote, warning that the NBC brand could take a hit based on “your outside activities, including business relationships, the boards on which you sit, events and groups you may wish to participate in, and petitions you choose to sign.” The note didn’t say what triggered it, but the writers and actors strikes are a sensitive subject at NBCUniversal.
Making bank in bankruptcy: At least one company seems to be benefiting from the gloomy state of the news media business. AlixPartners has been busy with multiple distressed media clients: The firm has been consulting on the brutal cuts at Vice Media amid the company’s bankruptcy. AlixPartners is also handling the bankruptcy sale for the Telegraph.
Walk in, Walk out: The New York Times Guild plans a lunchtime walkout this week in protest of the decision to shut down the sports desk and focus its attention on the (non-union) Athletic. “The company claims the right to buy any media property with a subscriber base it finds attractive, and ‘subcontract’ our work to their newly acquired non-union staff,” the Guild complained in an email to members Friday.
Note: The section will remain in print with coverage both from other Times desks and The Athletic.
But one Times staffer noted that the walkout may inadvertently serve a management goal: Getting staffers back to the office. You can’t walk out if you’re working remote.
Posted: We, too, had so many questions about the rolling New York Post coverage of a dinner with Robert F. Kennedy in which a)there was a lot of farting (Page Six on Friday, lede: “Camelot it ain’t.” ) and … oh … he said some wildly anti-semitic stuff about COVID (Jon Levine on Saturday). One minor questions was: Why did the stories appear in that order, and under different bylines? The answer is not as interesting as the expression on Levine’s face in the video he published: Page Six seems to operate on the principle that anonymous sourcing is more credible; and Levine writes, British style, for the Sunday paper.