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Linda Yaccarino is trusting her son with the social media platform’s last-ditch effort to revive pol͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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November 19, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where all politics is decidedly not local.

The annual gala for the Committee to Protect Journalists is uniquely moving on the self-congratulatory journalism circuit, because it focuses almost entirely on non-American reporters doing dangerous work in hard places. Thursday night’s dinner saw honorees from Mexico, India and Georgia, and an extraordinary speech by the exiled Togolese journalist Ferdinand Ayité.

Ayité made the case that even relatively privileged American and European journalists should be eying that trend warily. He described the situation for media in the countries of the Sahel — in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso — in terms that are just familiar enough: Journalists there work “not only under threat from the authorities, but also from self-proclaimed groups of patriots who are against all those who do not support the narratives of the ruling military regimes.”

“We should not allow islands of lawlessness and dictatorship to flourish anywhere on this earth, just because they seem far from us,” he said. “Like a pandemic or a cancer, it will spread and contaminate other localities and regions.”

Also in today’s newsletter, Max has a new glimpse at the man at the red hot intersection of Republican politics and Twitter’s business — the CEO’s son. AND: Truth Social’s legal letters, doubts about a Twitter script, and Audacy on the brink. (Scoop count: 5)

Semafor Tech’s Reed Albergotti and Louise Matsakis worked through the weekend breaking news on the meltdown at OpenAI and what it means for a new industry. Sign up here..

Assignment Desk
Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images

Will Western governments let Jeff Zucker spend Abu Dhabi’s money? High energy prices mean that Gulf money is everywhere — in finance, tech and in the media business. The former CNN chief is now CEO of the billion-dollar RedBird IMI fund, backed by Abu Dhabi’s International Media Investments. But growing suspicion of foreign investment (cf. TikTok) is starting to get in the way of media deals. Strategic concerns have already pushed the Qataris out of a bid for The Telegraph, and now ministers in Rishi Sunak’s government are raising questions about Redbird IMI’s involvement in the deal.

Max Tani

Twitter bets big on ... CEO’s son

Linda Yaccarino.
Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media


Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X, formerly Twitter, has turned the service’s Hail Mary bet on an imagined $100 million political advertising business over to someone she trusts: her son Matt Madrazo.

Despite owner Elon Musk’s attempts to convert the company into a subscription-based service, the company remains dependent on an advertising business that produced about 90% of its revenue in 2021. And in the initial months after he bought Twitter, Musk expressed a keen interest in restarting the social media company’s political advertising business, which it had voluntarily shuttered in 2019.

In recent weeks, Madrazo, who previously headed ad sales at the non-political, creator-focused media firm Studio71, has been privately introducing himself to influential figures in the political ad world in Washington, D.C. He’s part of what’s essentially a two-man operation to restart X’s political advertising business with the goal of capitalizing on the massive amounts of money that campaigns are about to spend during the 2024 elections.

According to three people with knowledge of the situation, Madrazo has been tasked with outreach to Republican digital advertising firms and spenders. Jonathan Phelps, a Pandora and Univision veteran who also joined X in recent months, is handling the platform’s (far less promising) outreach to Democrats. Working occasionally out of Tesla’s D.C. offices, the duo are hoping to resuscitate a line of cash at a moment when the company is desperate for new revenue.

It’s an uphill battle made more difficult by an escalating series of provocations from Musk himself on the platform, most recently his promotion of an antisemitic conspiracy theory. One of X’s latest partners to bail is CNN, which confirmed to Semafor that on Friday it had stopped adding to Amplify, a crucial advertising platform for X that shows ads with publishers’ videos.


X stopped allowing political ads in 2019, amid fears that partisan actors could pay to spread false or misleading information on its platform. But amid a broader advertising decline, the company announced in January that it would ease restrictions on political ads, saying that “cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation around important topics.”

While the political ad team often met or overperformed expectations, political advertising wasn’t a major moneymaker for Twitter. In 2018, the company brought in just $3 million for political ads. But Yaccarino and newly appointed lead revenue executive Rob Hayes have lofty goals. X executives have told people they hope the political ad team could bring in around $100 million during a presidential election year, according to one person with knowledge of the company’s plans.


Read on for Max's take on whether this new drive for political ad money has any hope of success, plus a counterpoint. →


One Good Text

Sally Buzbee is the executive editor of The Washington Post, which recently published ”Terror on Repeat,” a deep-dive look into the carnage caused by AR-15s during mass shootings.


⁛ News

REUTERS/Rachel Mummey

Family ties: The powerful right-wing talker Mark Levin has described himself as “all in for DeSantis” — but hasn’t disclosed his family connection to the campaign.

Levin’s stepson worked on Jewish and pro-Israel outreach for Ron DeSantis’ gubernatorial re-election campaign and presidential campaign, Semafor first reported last week.

Sydney is not sending its best: An Australian politician named Nick Adams was seen as “an attention-seeker and a clown” by the time his career ended there, so he moved to Florida and reinvented himself as a sycophantic pro-Trump influencer.

Gaza in El Segundo: The Los Angeles Times is prohibiting its journalists from covering the Gaza war for at least three months if they signed a strongly-worded open letter criticizing Israel’s military operations in the region, Max scooped last week.

Earlier this month, nearly a dozen staffers at the LA Times signed the open letter, which condemned the Israeli government’s bombing of Gaza and said the military operations were harming journalists and threatening newsgathering. The letter also called on newsrooms to use language including “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “genocide” when referring to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Nice work if you can get it: A German journalist famous for his access to — and sympathetic coverage of — Vladimir Putin also collected some €600,000 from sources close to the Russian government, per The Guardian.


⁜ Tech

You can’t handle the truth: Former President Donald Trump’s social media company is not pleased with public reports about its financial struggles. Staffers at multiple prominent news outlets told Semafor that over the last several months, they had received threatening legal letters from Trump Media & Technology Group, which owns Truth Social, following reports about its prolonged merger with the company Digital World and reports that it has lost millions of dollars since its launch in 2021.

Truth Social has complained publicly about media coverage of the platform, with a spokesperson dubbing it a “relentless mainstream media campaign peddling false information about Truth Social.”

‘In fact negative’: You’ll really never see a prepared quote quite like this in a story about an executive departure, but former BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen is always known for her straight talk.

“BuzzFeed Inc. has been, from the beginning, premised on the idea of a large network that is powerful and valuable,” Nguyen told Adweek. “But what has happened in the past two years is that with the fragmentation of audiences, the advertising market challenges and that squeeze from the big tech platforms, the network’s value, and specifically the value of distributed-only audiences, has been rapidly diminishing, and now it’s approaching zero, and some might argue that its value is in fact negative.”

Bad Apple: Surveys continue to show that a large segment of Americans remain wary of large tech companies that own both media properties and nascent AI programs. In a new poll from the Artificial Intelligence Policy Institute shared with Semafor, 50% of survey respondents said they disapproved of Apple ending Jon Stewart’s show because he’d chosen to cover China and artificial intelligence. Only 19% of respondents approved of canceling the show.

Cost of privacy: The nonprofit encrypted messaging app Signal opened its books to illustrate the costs of running a service without selling your eyeballs or information — $50 million a year.


☊ Audio

Radio days: Radio giant Audacy, which swallowed the former CBS Radio in 2017 and has been in talks with creditors over the past several months to refinance its debt, is weighing declaring bankruptcy in the coming days, according to two people familiar with the plans. As Bloomberg’s Ashley Carman reported this week, the company has been crippled by a decline in advertising and a rapidly aging audience, and has struggled to compete in podcasting with streaming competitors like Spotify.


✰ Hollywood

No Zaz love lost: The honeymoon is truly over for Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav. This week’s 8,000-word Mahler-Stewart-Mullin New York Times obituary explores a Big Media world in which nobody is having any fun (aside possibly from the good people at Mattel). A companion piece (2 bylines, 2,600 words) explains that Zaslav also has no friends anymore.

Climate changes: Earth Alliance, launched in 2019 by Laurene Powell Jobs and Leonardo DiCaprio to fight climate change with media, is being folded into the biodiversity group Re:wild, one of its original partners, a spokeswoman for Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective said.


⁌ TV

Tense in Doral: A Univision founder tells Adrian Carrasquillo that the network’s new, Trump-friendlier direction is “an absolute embarrassment and goes against what I believe and what I created.”


⁋ Publishing

The Agent: The elusive, powerful book agent Andrew Wylie helped shape his business, and his approach is totally singular. “Authority is one of Wylie’s watchwords; it signifies the degree to which his agency can set the terms of book deals for the maximum benefit of its clients,” the Guardian writes in a must-read profile.

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