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Weekly Digest: Arms Races

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.

In Russia, government crackdown on independent media continues as Meduza, a prominent Russian-language independent news publication, was labeled a “foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry last Friday.

The designation is an inconspicuous move, but it poses an existential threat to the 7-year-old publication, which has operated under a seemingly successful advertising model. This model has been all but destroyed, with most businesses not wanting to advertise under a large “foreign agent” notification mandated by the law.

Meduza will appeal but doesn’t believe the appeal will succeed. It has significantly scaled back its operations and launched a donations service, urging its readers to help save the outlet.

More from The Fix on the Meduza story: Meduza counters Russian authorities’ “foreign agent” attack with appeal to readers 

In Ukraine, YouTube blocked access to channels associated with Viktor Medvedchuk, a Kremlin ally accused of pro-Russian propaganda by the Ukrainian authorities. 

112, NewsOne, and ZIK channels were sanctioned by Ukraine’s National Security Council in February as outlets funded by and working for the “aggressor country.” Their TV broadcasts were immediately shut down, but the channels have continued to operate on the Internet.

Now, YouTube has fulfilled a Ukrainian request to block access to the channels, although they are still available when viewed outside Ukraine. As Kyiv Post notes, “this appears to be the first time when YouTube blocks content in Ukraine following security-related sanctions imposed by the country.”

The channels are officially owned by Taras Kozak, an MP from the pro-Russian “Opposition Platform”, but the real owner is widely believed to be Medvedchuk, the party’s leader and one of the closest Vladimir Putin’s allies in Ukraine.

Podcast subscriptions are having their moment, with two largest podcasting platforms having unveiled plans to enable native subscription models.

On Tuesday, Spotify announced its paid podcast subscription product. For now, the program is available to select shows and only in the United States, but it will be expanded in the coming month.

The news comes the week after Apple announced it would enable podcasts subscriptions on Apple Podcasts. Apple will take a significantly larger cut of the revenue than Spotify (30% in the first year and 15% afterwards as opposed to Spotify’s free two years & a 5% cut afterwards), though it seems to provide podcasters with greater flexibility.

More from The Fix on why it’s a big deal: Paid podcasts are here, this is what you need to know 

“Newsletter arms race” goes on as Facebook is investing $5 million in local newsletters

This announcement came two weeks after Substack announced its $1-million investment initiative to boost local news. Facebook and other big tech platforms have been competing with Substack in the newsletter field, and local news is an important frontier.

The program prioritizes independent journalists from “communities of color” and places not covered extensively by existing media publications. Unlike Substack Local, it’s open only for US-based writers.

More from The Fix on newsletters: Beginning of a newsletter arms race / Ex-New Yorker and BuzzFeed newsletter director explains how email can become a newsroom’s biggest driver of revenue  

Photo by Vino Li on Unsplash

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