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In today’s newsletter: media-political tensions in Hollywood and Miami, tough times at Vanity Fair a͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
snowstorm New York
cloudy Gaza City
snowstorm London
rotating globe
November 27, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where we’re writing to say thanks.

One of the things about the newsletter age is that you get an awful lot of sincere notes from your favorite newsletter writers, thankful for — your email address!

And we at Semafor are truly thankful for your attention, your tips and feedback, your first-party data. Seriously — we just got here, and feel like it’s a bit of a miracle that you’re reading.

I’m also honestly thankful, and this surprised me a bit, for the fragmentation that’s the defining feature of this media moment. While I occasionally miss the previous moments of dominance – first by giant television networks and newspapers, and then by giant platforms – it was clear by the end of the last decade that model wasn’t working very well. And the world of a million podcasts, newsletters, group chats, and TikTok creators has opened the potential for the genuine surprise and delight that I associate with the early internet.

Max’s scoop today is a bit about that: News unions, which for a decade swept in all comers (staffers at the Democratic Socialists of America now have the same representation as the New York Times) now face the challenges that come with that diversity. The journalists at The Wall Street Journal, in particular, don’t want the Guild to issue statements about Gaza. People running big institutions are trying to navigate the end of homogenizing platforms, and the end of that United Front media politics poses a challenge to labor, too.

Of course, all our industry does is bundle and unbundle, so don’t get too used to it.

Also today: media-political tensions in Hollywood and Miami, influencer marketing in politics, tough times at Vanity Fair and the New Statesman, and a lot about The Telegraph. (Scoop count: A meager 2.)

If you’re enjoying the unbundled world, but also having a hard time figuring out what the hell is going on, sign up for Semafor Flagship, which subscribes to and reads everything so you don’t have to. Sign up here.

Assignment Desk

The COVID vaccine booster business has now entered the American pharmaceutical marketing funnel, as drug companies compete for share of a multibillion-dollar market. While Pfizer, the market leader, seems to be sticking with time-honored vaccine messaging —”Got Yours?” ask celebrities — Moderna’s pitching its shot, now branded Spikevax, as a wellness product for fit young people: “Spikevax that body.”

Novavax, fighting for its corporate life, launched an ad campaign on social media that leans into paranoia about its rivals’ mRNA vaccines, in announcing its more traditional protein-based jab: Now, “a non-mRNA option is available!” If anyone’s seen the market research driving that one, send it our way!

Max Tani

WSJ, Times journalists pull union away from Gaza statement

Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images


Influential members of the country’s largest journalist union are resisting calls to release a statement supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.

The leaders of the union representing The Wall Street Journal sent a letter to its parent union, the NewsGuild, noting that journalists are afforded protected status in war zones, and appearing to take a side could block reporters from attending briefings or speaking to officials – and could even make them military targets.

“Readers, viewers and listeners far from a conflict zone depend on credible journalists on the scene to provide fair and unbiased reports, including facts that may not align with an individual’s preconceptions,” the board of directors of The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, the NewsGuild local that represents Dow Jones journalists, wrote.

“Taking public positions on news events we cover damages the confidence our members have earned through decades of impactful reporting in war zones and throughout the world, fueling the misconception that reporters are advocates rather than observers.”

The letter continued: “We believe the news we report from Israel, Gaza and throughout the world speaks for itself. There is nothing for The NewsGuild to add.”

The New York Times union leaders are discussing issuing a similar statement, a person familiar with the plans said. A representative of the AP’s NewsGuild chapter, another large traditionalist unit of the union, said they hadn’t yet discussed a statement.

During a meeting last week, the Guild’s national executive committee discussed a proposal for the journalists’ union to adopt a statement calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel and a ceasefire. The same evening, the Guild’s influential New York chapter met to discuss the same topic, including a proposed statement presented by the union of New York Times tech employees — who are organized separately from its journalists — that would have condemned Israel for the deaths of children and journalists in Gaza.

“This violence is mirrored by a chilling effect across newsrooms in the United States and Canada,” the proposed national Guild statement said, noting the dozens of journalists who have been killed there since the military operation began last month. “Our members are increasingly bearing its brunt, working in environments where perspectives normalizing the Israeli assault are endorsed as objectivity, and reporting on the collective punishment is marginalized, dismissed, or penalized as bias.”

The proposal continued: “We join thousands of our colleagues and millions of others around the world in calling, in no uncertain terms, for an immediate ceasefire.”


The leadership of the New York NewsGuild, which represents some of the biggest names in news media including the New York Times, the New Yorker and other publications at magazine publisher Conde Nast, and NBC News, among others, discussed and ultimately rejected the proposal. Instead, it opted to form a working group to craft a statement for release next month that does not call for a ceasefire, and focuses on the rights and protections that unionized workers have to express personal views without professional repercussions.

But the national NewsGuild has seen increasing external and internal pressure to speak out vocally against Israeli military action, partially reflecting the Guild’s growth over the past several years, and the divergence between old-school newsrooms and the union’s growing progressive wing.

The NewsGuild, once called the Newspaper Guild and representing traditional daily newspaper employees, has reacted to the decline of its own industry by also organizing adjacent, more overtly progressive organizations, some of which are outside journalism. The Washington-Baltimore local has organized employees of political organizations including the Democratic Socialists of America and the AFL-CIO itself — not always an easy fit with the reporters at places like the Washington Post and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A group called CWA Palestine Solidarity (The NewsGuild is itself part of the Communications Workers of America) has attempted to rally the more activist parts of the union, organizing an email petition calling on members of the NewsGuild to support a ceasefire. After last week’s national NewsGuild meeting, the group said that the overwhelming “megamajority” of people in attendance at the meeting supported its petition for a ceasefire.

“EC members acknowledged this was the biggest turnout they’d ever seen for an EC meeting. (The previous record: 5 guests.) The IDF is responsible for 75%+ of journalist killings in the world this year, and promising to do more. We urge the @Newsguild EC to reflect that urgency,” the group wrote in a tweet.

That’s a long way from the more traditional, removed stance of journalists at Dow Jones, Reuters, and the Times, and could create fissures in the journalists’ union itself.

In an email to Semafor on Wednesday, national NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss said that no decision has been made about issuing another statement.

“Any time there is an issue that our members care about, we listen. We held a session for members this week and have heard from hundreds of members over the last several days, some supporting a call for a ceasefire, some not,” he said. “No one should be disciplined or have their job security threatened for raising questions in their workplace or in our industry. We’re continuing to talk and listen with members through the holiday.”

One Good Text

Jane Martinson is a columnist for The Guardian and the author of ”You May Never See Us Again,” a book about the Barclay family.


⁛ News

Labour notes: Tough times at the house journal of Britain’s ascendant Labour Party, the New Statesman, which appears to be cutting about 20 staffers, per the Addition.

London graffiti: “A fight has broken out in the toilets at the Daily Mail,” Popbitch reports: “A piece of graffiti saying “DAILY M. STOP TALK SHIT ABUT MEGAN,” appeared, which drew the reply: “Sub-editor here... Her name is ‘Meghan,’ tosspot.”

Dept. of Sincere Concern: “Very funny watching the Murdoch press and the Mail (both bidders who are now set to move up) run these DEEP CONCERNS ABOUT GULF INFLUENCE stories,” one of the few British media types who is not bidding for the Telegraph writes.

São Paulo in December: Ben will be in Brazil next weekend for the Piauí festival and spoke to Folha media columnist Mauricio Stycer about media fragmentation.

⁋ Publishing

Radhika Jones.
Cindy Ord/VF23/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Not in vain: Vanity Fair staffers are protesting parent company Condé Nast’s deep cuts to the iconic entertainment-focused magazine. While Condé Nast announced earlier this month that it was axing 5% of the entire company, 50 Vanity Fair employees last week signed onto a letter addressed to editor-in-chief Radhika Jones claiming that Vanity Fair’s editorial staff is bearing a notable and disproportionate share of the layoffs.

“Simply put, the layoffs will be disastrous for the brand and could endanger its future,” the letter, which was shared with Semafor, said. “The proposed layoffs were clearly made without any consideration for the ripple effect the loss of our colleagues will undoubtedly have on the brand.”

But the letter also acknowledged that the magazine’s leadership has little power over the scope and execution of the cuts, which were implemented by the parent company – in some cases without much input from editors or middle managers. (Some top Condé editors were appalled when they learned about certain layoffs from the editorial union, which was presented with a list of proposed staff cuts by Condé Nast’s legal team). “It’s unclear whether these decisions were made with consultation from you or our fellow staffers, who work alongside us daily to ensure the success and growth of the brand, while maintaining its legacy as a cultural powerhouse,” the letter said. “This ongoing lack of clarity sets a troubling precedent for those who remain and for future employees, creating a work environment steeped in instability, doubt, and distrust.”

Furloughed: Lapham’s Quarterly, the successor to a certain era of Harper’s, is going on ice.

✦ Marketing

Influence peddling: India’s regional elections offer a glimpse of what’s to come in paid influencer advertising everywhere across our fragmented media landscape: “There is no way you can figure out who is being paid by whom to say what.”

Twitter trickle: X’s ad business has waned (and waxed) more slowly than headlines suggest: “A slow trickle [of clients] returned with Linda [Yaccarino] joining and then a slow decline [left] as issues mounted,” a media buyer tells Adweek. The company stands to lose $75 million this year, according to an internal assessment obtained by The New York Times.

✰ Hollywood

War in Hollywood: A juicy read on how agencies are balancing strong feelings about Israel and Gaza with … vanity and commerce. Highlight: Reclusive star Tom Cruise “met with [agent Maha] Dakhil at her CAA office on Nov. 15. A knowledgeable source says he took the rare step of going in person to show support for his embattled agent.”

⁌ TV

Good question: We are left wishing we had asked Stephen A. Smith about the movie Cars during the Semafor Media Summit this spring. This answer…

Bad questions: The backlash to Univision’s cordial interview with former President Donald Trump has gotten bad enough that star host Jorge Ramos published a blog post acknowledging that the interview had “put in doubt the independence of our news department, and created discomfort and uncertainty within the newsroom.”

Hot on Semafor
  • The chief executive of a U.S. insurance company steered hundreds of millions of dollars to sports investor 777 Partners, whose bid for one of England’s oldest soccer teams has drawn scrutiny about its finances.
  • One of the most prominent backers of the “effective altruism” movement at the heart of the ongoing turmoil at OpenAI told Semafor he is now questioning the merits of running companies based on the philosophy.
  • The party of Geert Wilders, an anti-Islam populist often compared to Donald Trump, has won the most votes in a shock victory in the Dutch parliamentary elections.