Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media every week – and try to put them in a wider context.
This week, Reporters Without Borders published its annual World Press Freedom Index.
Globally, the report’s authors highlight that journalism is “totally blocked or seriously impeded” in as many as 73 countries, and news media faces constraints in another 59 countries – overall marking 73% of the 180 countries ranked.
In Europe, the situation is uneven. Overall, the region is traditionally one of the freest and safest places for journalists. Some countries, such as Italy and Greece, have shown noticeable improvements. However, Central Europe is a different story. As we note, “positive trends [are] marred by a group of rapidly declining states,” notably Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia.
More on the World Press Freedom Index from The Fix: Press Freedom in 2021: A freer Europe with a rotting core
In the meanwhile, however, good news comes from Slovakia as the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) has announced a purchase of a 34% stake in Petit Press, the country’s second-largest publisher. The company’s current owner has been controversial, including for its involvement in corruption scandals, so MDIF’s investment is a promising sign.
More on the MDIF investment from The Fix: MDIF invests in Slovakia’s Petit Press, bringing closure to press freedom saga
In the UK, Prince Philip’s death has caused not only disputes over how much weight the media should give to covering the event but also racial reckoning for some media outlets.
Racial inequality is an increasingly important topic. Now, a growing number of voices suggest to reclassify the late Duke of Edinburgh’s gaffes or questionable humour as casual racism. For example, this week, Sunday Times had to apologise for not taking Prince Philip’s racist remarks seriously enough.
Reporting on his funeral, the newspaper noted that the Duke of Edinburgh was “an often crotchety figure, offending people with gaffes about slitty eyes, even if secretly we rather enjoyed them”. The remark quickly drew backlash, including the ire of east Asian journalists, prompting the Sunday Times editor to offer an apology.
More on coverage of Prince Philip’s death from The Fix: Weekly Digest: Wins and Losses for Diversity
This week brought big news in the audio space.
First, as part of its series of new releases, Apple has announced the option to monetise podcasts through subscriptions on Apple Podcasts. Creators will be able to join Apple Podcasters Program for $20 a year and use native tools to sell subscriptions; the program will be available in 170 countries and regions in May.
Although paid podcast subscriptions aren’t a novelty, the field lacks an easy, industry-wide solution similar to the one Substack offers for newsletters. Apple’s plans provide a clear path to creating one (though, notably, Apple takes a 30% cut of revenue, a much higher share than newsletter providers do, for example).
In the meanwhile, Facebook announced ambitious plans for audio tools, creating serious competition to Clubhouse. Among other innovations, the platform will create a podcast discovery product integrated with Spotify.
More on the audio boom from The Fix: Audio is in its second golden age, and Spotify is about to win it all
The pandemic has hit news media advertising hard, prompting outlets to accelerate the growth of subscription models and making a hole in their budgets. In the US, however, the advertising market seems to be coming back in full gear.
As New York Times media columnist Ben Smith notes, “travel companies, liquor companies and basically everyone else… have begun pouring money into advertising on virtually every platform, but digital media most of all.” Most of the money goes to the advertising duopoly of Facebook and Google, but news media outlets are getting a slice of the pie.
Notably, according to Smith, physical events are also poised to make a comeback in the second part of the year.
While great news for the media, this growth seems to be specific to the American economic boom and quick vaccine rollout, which has not been replicated in Europe.