Weekly Digest

The Fix Weekly Digest: The Impact of Crisis

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every Friday, we bring you five important news stories from the world of media — and try to put them in a wider context.

The last few weeks saw a number of media companies publishing their first quarter results. The data confirms the existing wisdom on the pandemic’s impact: a painful decline in advertising, events in freefall, while subscriptions and niche publications have it easier.

Digiday prepared an overview of how the world’s biggest media companies are doing. For example, German media conglomerate Bertelsmann saw its ad-funded business decline, but the number of subscribers to its streaming services has been growing.

Other Western companies are seeing the same trend, including News Corp, which owns publications in the US, UK and Australia, as well as The New York Times.

As a result of the aforementioned trend, media companies are continuing to cut costs. Sometimes it means furloughing staff or pay cuts. Sometimes the steps are more dramatic. 

This week, BuzzFeed announced it would close its local news operations in the UK and Australia. In Britain, it has furloughed its 10 staff members. According to The Guardian, they are “highly unlikely” to come back. BuzzFeed will retain some staff in the country but will not cover local news.

According to the company’s statement, the decision to pull the plug on operations in the UK and Australia was taken both “for economic and strategic reasons”. BuzzFeed says it will focus on the US coverage.

As we reported back in April, BuzzFeed had already put up for sale its German division. With the presidential election looming in America and the economic crisis just gathering pace, the company sees focusing resources on its biggest market as the best way forward.

Respected Russian business publication Vedomosti is also suffering, though not so much from the economic crisis. As reported by The Economist, Kremlin and state-controlled oil giant Rosneft are going after Vedomosti’s independence

As the article points out, “the timing of the current attempts to bring the paper to heel is not so much a sign of Vedomosti’s outspokenness… but of the Kremlin’s intolerance of any criticism”. Still, the paper’s staff does not seem to be giving up without a fight.

A joint investigation by four Russian outlets (including Vedomosti itself) further shows the deep ties between Rosneft and the new management of the publication, as well as its coordination with the Putin administration.

This week, we saw two interesting news stories which highlight the marriage between audio and traditional text journalism.

On the one side, Apple plans to publish audio versions of media articles to its service Apple News+. The company will pay to develop audio versions of stories by certain publishers, and split the subscriber revenue under the same model as it does with text stories.

On the other side, Spotify seems to be quietly working on automatic transcription of podcasts, a new feature that has not been officially announced yet.

Last week, The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting thanks to its coverage of Russia’s “shadow wars” in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Roman Badanin, the editor-in-chief of Russian publication Proekt, accused The New York Times of failing to properly recognize Proekt, which had reported on this story 6 months before The Times did. This week, The Fix spoke with Badanin to find out his side of this story — and what it tells about the tension between big international publications and local media.

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