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.
Two weeks ago, China unexpectedly passed the controversial Hong Kong national security law. The international community has been quick to express concerns that its broad scope and vague wording can be used to seriously crack down on civil liberties, particularly on freedom of speech, in the region.
Increasingly, we are seeing these fears being confirmed, from the removal of visible signs of opposition from the city’s streets to broad accusations by mainland China’s government that 600,000 people “may have broken” the law. The New York Times has announced that it will relocate part of its Hong Kong bureau to Seoul citing the “uncertainty about the city’s prospects as a hub for journalism in Asia”.
Hong Kong is a former British colony handed over to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle, which has exempted the city from a lot of the attributes of China’s censorship. Thus, Hong Kong has been an attractive place for major Western media companies to do business. New York Times’ decision shows hints that this might begin to change as mainland China is moving to tighten its grip on the city.
As companies report their second-quarter results, the impact of the economic crisis on the media becomes more visible — and leads to more plans for media layoffs.
In America, Vox Media has announced that it missed its revenue forecast for Q2 by 40% and has to go down the route of staff cuts. In recent years Vox Media built a strong advertisement-based model, which made the company profitable — until the pandemic hit. As you would expect, the hardest-hit parts of Vox Media’s networks are those reporting on the suffering industries, specifically SBNation, which reports on sports, and Curbed, which focuses on real estate and interior design.
In the UK, two of the major media companies also announced cuts. The Guardian will cut 180 jobs, including 70 editorial roles, due to its “unsustainable financial outlook”. The BBC will let go of 520 jobs, including 450 previously planned job cuts and 70 newly-announced ones.
Some media giants are feeling better than others. The New York Times has not avoided some coronacrisis-caused downsizing, but overall the company is in better shape than many of its counterparts.
This week, Axios reported that The New York Times is expanding its TV and film production, making it “look more like a Hollywood studio than a traditional newspaper”. The company has made a number of announcements, including three feature documentaries and a few other projects.
Importantly, it is podcasting that plays a major role in this expansion. Not only did the Times’ successes in the audio field made the company money and showed it the power of new mediums, but the podcasting format has been a useful testing ground for new TV projects.
The coalition of Western media and tech companies and think tanks, the Trusted News Initiative, has unveiled an interesting initiative to fight fake news during the US 2020 election.
The technology builds on placing digital watermarks on original content, with a goal to swiftly and effectively identify manipulation. It will build on the successes in tackling misinformation ahead of the elections in the UK and Taiwan.
The network includes The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC, Microsoft, and Facebook, among others. According to BBC, it “agreed to a shared early warning system of rapid alerts to combat the spread of disinformation during the US presidential election.”
In an important judicial ruling, the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, reaffirmed the principle of the protection of journalists’ sources. The journalistic community, including the International Federation of Journalists and the UK’s National Union of Journalists, has welcomed the decision as a “historic victory” for journalists.