Weekly Digest

The Fix Weekly Digest: The Power of Tech, The Power of People

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

Last week, we reported on how technology is helping circumvent state censorship amid mass protests in Belarus. This week, we’ve also seen another angle of defying the state media machine — people working for it. Hundreds of Belarusians working for government-run media companies joined the broader strike against the Lukashenko regime.

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that 300 employees of Belarus One, the national channel, had gone on strike to protest unfair election and television censorship. Notably, Belarusian state television had tried to completely ignore protests — obviously by far the biggest story in the country in decades — in favor of covering routine government business, such as “a cabinet meeting about the price of rapeseed oil.” As a result, “Belarusians watching the news on state television were greeted with an extraordinary sight: an empty studio” on Monday.

According to Detector Media, a Ukrainian media watchdog, Belarus One’s situation is part of a bigger pattern. Several state-controlled TV and radio channels have been forced to air re-runs of older programs because of their employees striking, and at least several dozen people resigned from their state media jobs. 

While it’s too early to assess the long-term impact of these actions on Belarusian protests, it’s obvious in the short terms that strikes and resignations of government-media journalists have helped draw attention to the protests, perhaps especially so for older, rural Belarusians who are not as savvy in using Telegram and circumventing internet blocks to get access to unbiased information.

In other, not-so-encouraging news concerning freedom of speech, the Supreme Court of India has found a prominent lawyer guilty of criminal conduct for his two tweets criticizing the judiciary.

Along with several thousand Indian activists and experts, Human Rights Watch has strongly condemned this decision. Its South Asia director said “India’s Supreme Court has jettisoned its long history of protecting free speech by finding Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his social media posts.”

Switching to market news, there’s some positive news for the podcasting industry. According to Business Insider estimates, US podcast advertising is “still” on track to surpass the $1 billion milestone in 2021. It means the corona-crisis has not hit podcasting as hard as other media formats. Indeed, the report “estimate[s] that podcast ad spend will grow by 10.4% to $782.0 million this year, compared with a 17.0% drop for digital radio outlays overall.”

Partly, it’s a technology story. Historically, podcast ads had been harder to work with, particularly in terms of measuring impact vs. other forms of advertising. Recently, big players in the industry, most notably Spotify, have successfully worked to resolve some of those challenges.

A month ago, The Guardian reported plans to cut 70 journalist jobs, as well as 110 non-editorial roles, amid the crisis. Now, we have learned about how these cuts are going to be distributed — and this story is emblematic of recent trends.

The biggest cuts will happen in the sport department. According to Press Gazette, The Guardian is planning to cut the scope of journalism produced by Guardian Sport. The paper will no longer have dedicated reporters for racing, club rugby, and some other sports. Live blogs will also take a cut. At the same time, the topics around “women’s sport and sport’s cultural and socio-economic impact” will be preserved and further developed.

Another move within a major media outlet that is emblematic of recent trends — The New York Times is launching “Headway”, a new project dedicated to serious long-term stories. According to the company, “each year Headway will produce 10 to 12 deeply researched, visually ambitious, data-rich projects that look beyond the 24-hour news and election cycles”. 

Arguably one of the most interesting aspects of this story is that The New York Times, one of the strongest players in the world of news media, is best-poised to create a department that will produce long-term and expensive stories not tied to the news cycle.

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