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A new paper from Columbia will be grist for political debate.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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November 13, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where it isn’t always about us.

We’ve spent the last few weeks covering the media story of the Gaza war — through the delicate balancing acts of big U.S. media, the role of social platforms and even the restrictions imposed by satellite companies.

But it’s also worth acknowledging how little this conflict is about us, even as protesters and politicians in the U.S. focus their anger on the New York Times and TikTok. For instance: Is TikTok the cause of the long-term shift of younger Americans toward the Palestinian cause? Or is the profusion of pro-Palestinian TikTok videos — on a platform that serves you what you already want — the effect of a broader political shift with many causes? It seems to be at least mostly the latter.

Max and I have been asking ourselves those same questions about Donald Trump. It’s become received wisdom in U.S. media that cable television and social media gave him a kind of free pass in 2016. Various executives have since repented in public. And there’s a new conventional wisdom that journalists shouldn’t just let Trump use his outrageous tricks to grab attention and turn us into his megaphones.

And yet — take a look at this chart. There’s no correlation at all between Trump’s political standing and how much attention he gets, by the rough proxy of Google Trends. In fact, you sometimes get the sense that media outlets’ decisions not to let Trump speak “unfiltered” means ignoring what he says about his plans for the country, should he win again. But that chart should give journalists a little humility about our role in the story.

Also today: Publishers rejoice: A new study says Google owes you a zillion dollars. And: a booming pro-Biden newsroom, a reshuffle at Politico, unrest at the New York Post and a SiriusXM rebrand. (Scoop count: 4)

The most powerful people in the world will meet this week in San Francisco, and Morgan Chalfant will be covering the happenings for our policy-centric newsletter Principals while her rivals write predictable features about the city’s “doom loop.” Sign up here.

Assignment Desk

New Yorkers have Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post to thank, in part, for their current mayor, who rose on a tide of tabloid cheerleading. And the Post, typically known both for aggressive metro reporting and no presumption of innocence, is standing by its man after the FBI took the mayor’s phone Thursday in an investigation of whether he’d approved a new Turkish consulate in return for campaign contributions.

The Post has responded by amplifying evidence-free Republican theories with question-mark headlines: “Are the feds targeting Eric Adams because he criticized Joe Biden?” A Post veteran tells us that newsroom is getting a bit sick of the “push from the top to lie.” You can reply to this email to tell us more.

Ben Smith

Publishers should seek billions from Google, study argues

Chesnot/Getty Images


The latest entry in the escalating global struggle between news publishers and giant digital platforms is a paper that makes the case that Google owes U.S. publishers more than $10 billion a year for the way snippets and headlines of news articles appear in its search.

The study, released by Columbia University’s Institute for Policy Dialogue, argues that Google should distribute 17.5% of its search revenue to publishers annually. Meta owes 6.6% of its ad revenue, by the same calculations, or just under $2 billion a year.

Google rejects both the study’s methods and its findings. Spokeswoman Jenn Crider said that “less than 2% of all Searches are news related.” Google, she said, drives “tremendous value to news publishers by sending more than 24 billion visits each month to their sites – at no cost to them – which they can monetize.”


The drive to force digital platforms to pay news publishers came after a decade in which publishers chased online ad revenue generated by traffic from social and search platforms – only to find that clicks simply couldn’t underwrite the cost of quality journalism. Governments in which the news industry wields considerable political power — beginning with Rupert Murdoch’s native Australia — began considering whether they could simply force platforms to pay publishers.

The new study will be a cudgel for regulators looking to squeeze Meta and (especially) Google. One author, Anya Schiffrin, is a longtime advocate of this effort, and the study puts meat on the bones of her argument that “financing quality journalism requires a collective effort, and it is crucial that the Big Tech platforms do their part.”

The paper’s core calculation is based on a study of Swiss people, which found that about half of searches are for “information,” rather than, say, a search for a specific website or to buy something. Seventy percent of people in that study, shown two versions of results, preferred “a version of Google with journalistic content” to over one without it. The Columbia paper interprets those findings to mean that 35 percent of all searches” are looking for content from news publishers. It argues that as 50% is a normal fee for syndicating content (though the snippets shown in search aren’t full syndication), 17.5% of the revenue associated with Google searches should go to publishers.

The calculations seem shaped to maximize the value of publishers’ content for Google — but another author, the University of Houston’s Haaris Mateen, argued in an interview that news has outsized value to platforms, similar to the value live sports have to cable bundles. It’s an extremely aggressive, as well as pretty rough, and Swiss, estimate — but also a transparently-presented entry in a high-stakes argument.

Read on for more from Ben and one takeaway from a former media regulator in Australia.  →

One Good Text

Anna Holmes is the founding editor of Jezebel, which is shutting down. She recently wrote about the publication and women’s anger in The New Yorker.


⁛ News

Rosslyn shuffle: Politico’s new editorial leadership team is starting to make major newsroom changes. Earlier this year, new editor in chief John Harris announced the former New York Times political reporter (and Harris protege) Alex Burns would be elevated from associate editor to head of news, alongside executive editor Joe Schatz and executive director of newsroom strategy Francesca Barber.

The team has already shifted the editorial focus on the website, elevating Politico’s policy and international reporting. They’ve also begun reshaping the top of the masthead: Two people familiar with the situation told Semafor that former managing editor for news Karey Van Hall is leaving the publication for USA Today in the coming weeks after she was effectively moved out of the role. The morning editor’s meeting, renamed the “impact meeting,” as well as a similar afternoon editor’s meeting, have occasionally grown tense in recent weeks, with Burns making it known when he is displeased with editorial ideas or stories, three people with knowledge of those meetings told Semafor.

“My mandate is to increase the creativity and impact of our report and that is happening,” Harris told Semafor. “Any important change will be hard at times but the results have been immediately visible. This is only a first step in a process that is going to grow POLITICO’s audience and serve those readers better. Yes, we are raising our sights and standards, and I’m thrilled by the energetic response across the newsroom.”

Biden stans rejoice: One emerging partisan news organization on the left is seriously gearing up for 2024. On Monday, Courier Newsroom, a network of liberal news sites, will announce a new slate of national contributors and newsletters, video series, op-eds and podcasts that largely focus on “explaining, exposing, and fighting back against threats to our freedoms and democracy.”

The team will be led by Kyle Tharp, a veteran of Democratic political campaigns and author of the FWIW newsletter, which focuses on the digital side of electoral politics. Former Chicago Tribune editor Mark Jacob, online misinformation expert Melissa Ryan, independent Capitol Hill correspondent Michael Jones, and video creators Allan Piper, Liz Fleming and Maya May are all joining. As part of its new national news push, Courier also interviewed President Joe Biden last week, which the outlet will publish tomorrow on TikTok and Instagram.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

The SF narrative: As the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit gets underway in San Francisco, local media have been poking fun at the national reporters soon to be parachuting into their “failed” city. Would-be chroniclers of the “doom loop” phenomenon can use this Mad Libs-esque story generator from hyperlocal outlet Mission Local to write their article for them.

Gaza petition: A petition demanding news organizations “use precise terms that are well-defined by international human rights organizations, including ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide,’” offers a glimpse at newsrooms’ diverging policies on their staffs’ politics: Fifteen signatories self-identified as staffers at the Los Angeles Times, while none identified as being from the New York Times.

Also on the petition: “A journalist asked to have their signatures removed Nov. 10 at the request of their employer, the Associated Press. That signature has been removed.”

Cartoondämmerung: Editorial cartoons about Gaza turn out, unsurprisingly, to be a terrible idea. “Fire the cartoonists! Hire more editorial illustrators! Let artists who have something to say have their day—and erase the sloppy mess that an outdated generation of tired and complacent hacks has left behind,” writes Discourse Blog’s Jack Crosbie.

⁌ TV

Vice sliced: As it begins to settle into its new Brooklyn headquarters on 45 Main Street in DUMBO, Vice is continuing to shed remnants of the company’s business pre-bankruptcy. In addition to major cuts this week to the news division, one person familiar with the situation told Semafor that the organization’s top lawyer is leaving in the coming weeks. And Semafor has learned that Vice’s deal with MBC, the Saudi-backed media group, has been delayed. Vice is currently working with MBC on an Arabic-language platform in the style of Vice with documentary content, digital services, and digital content for the site.

While the platform was supposed to debut in early fall, the launch was delayed after MBC expressed dissatisfaction with some of the work.

In the soup: Fox is bringing in a former clerk to Justice Samuel Alito — and Campbell Soup’s general counsel — to clean up its legal disasters.

Up early: You can now catch Sky News Today with Wilfred Frost on weekday mornings at 5 a.m. EST on NBC News Now, as the company starts to play with its new international assets.

✦ Marketing

Sirius moves: SiriusXM has been engaged in a yearlong rebrand, which debuted last Monday at a star-studded press event in Hudson Yards. The satellite radio company announced the launch of its new app, which, starting at $9.99 per month, undercuts its streaming competitors – something the company believes could lead people to subscribe to Sirius in addition to rivals like Spotify and Apple Music.

The company also rolled out its new logo, a star meant to symbolize the celebrity and musical talent with shows on SiriusXM. Suzi Watford, the chief growth officer who SiriusXM hired earlier this year as part of the rebrand effort, told Semafor the new logo was developed in collaboration with British creative agency Uncommon.

“We’ve got really high awareness, really high familiarity, but we have to do this job with this new generation of listeners to kind of educate people about what Sirius XM is and how it’s different,” she said.

✰ Hollywood

Back to work: The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA has formally ended its strike, ratifying a contract that includes a 7% minimum raise, some guardrails on using AI and a mandate that “intimacy coordinators” monitor scenes involving nudity or simulated sex.

British invasion? The BBC is ramping up production for American audiences even as most studios cut back, seeing the U.S. as a better market than Britain as the national broadcaster’s budget gets squeezed.

⁜ Tech

Vapor web: Garbage Day’s Ryan Broderick mulls our notion of a “fragmentation election” and broadens it to describe a new internet with no central threads and no main story: “There is actually more internet with more happening on it — and with bigger geopolitical stakes — than ever before. And yet, it’s nearly impossible to grab ahold of it because none of it adds up into anything coherent. Simply put, we’re post-viral now.”

⁋ Publishing

Qatar dropped: The Daily Mail group will no longer rely on Qatari investment to fund its bid for the Telegraph, “amid fears the UK government would oppose investors from the region.”

Three Body Royalties Problem: The author of The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin, “has been largely locked out of the IP universe he created. For over a decade, Liu’s IP rights have been passed around and fought over in China’s film industry for ever-increasing sums of money,” The Wire China reports. If the Netflix show is a hit, expect a “gold rush” for the Chinese sci-fi rights.

Hot on Semafor
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