Weekly Digest

The Fix Weekly Digest: Up and Down

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.

In previous digests, we reported on two uplifting stories from Belarus — how both technology and people are defying state censorship amid mass protests. (We also published a closer look at the role of Telegram in the protests.) This week, we’re taking a more pessimistic view. 

Protests remain an important force in Belarus, but Lukashenko’s government might prove resilient enough to weather them, and the condition of journalism in the country is a vivid example.

First, Lukashenko’s rule is based on force, particularly the support of law enforcement agencies. In recent weeks, we’ve seen physical force applied to journalists, with reports of journalists being both detained and also “beaten and injured”. Belarusian analyst Franak Viačorka claims police are specifically targeting journalists amid the crowds, and there are reports that journalists are asked to delete footage of the protests.

Second, Lukashenko’s strength is in no small part rooted in the support of Russian president Vladimir Putin. That allows the current government in Belarus to not only get security assistance but also Russian state TV journalists to fill the void created by Belarusians striking and resigning.

The pandemic has hit the media hard, but some media products have thrived. New data this week shows two success stories in the US and UK.

First, Digiday reports on the growing value of educational newsletter courses. This format was pioneered by BuzzFeed, which now has more than a dozen newsletter courses. Larger media organisations have followed suit, with The Wall Street Journal recently launching its first free educational newsletter “Six-Week Money Challenge”.

Second beneficiary: children news magazines. According to PressGazette, two big UK titles in this industry, The Week Junior and First News, “were able to continue printing throughout lockdown… and avoided the furloughs and pay cuts that have plagued news titles for adults”. What’s more, they considerably increased their circulation and subscriber base. The most important reason: parents want to keep children engaged during lockdown and are concerned about rising screen time.

Not every media industry thrives like magazines for kids. In the US, TV ad spending is projected to go down by 9% this year because of the pandemic. The size of the TV ad market will drop to $37 billion.

The losses would be even bigger if not for politics — 2020 is a historic election year in the United States, and thus a big year for political ads. It’s not a big year for the auto manufacturing industry though, which is the single bigger sector responsible for the drop in ad spend.

Facebook is accelerating the launch of the Facebook News tab in countries outside the US, including Germany, France and the UK. The company is working out deals with publishers to pay for their content.

Interestingly, Australia is conspicuously absent from the list of priority countries. According to Axios, Facebook is not planning to launch its news product in Australia “because of a battle Facebook is fighting with Australian regulators who intend to require the platform to pay news companies on the regulators’ terms”.

It seems that people in the UK don’t particularly trust the media. New research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that 35% respondents believe the coronavirus situation has been made worse by the news media covering it, while only 7% think it has been made better.

That’s “despite numerous examples of important investigative reporting by individual news organisations and despite previous research demonstrating that people who follow the news know significantly more about the disease.” Less than half of respondents (45%) believe news organizations are relatively trustworthy sources on COVID-19, a 12% drop compared to April.

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