Media on the Move: Week of February 11, 2019

By Charles Trowbridge

The ROI of journalism lies at the center of the industry’s contraction for the last decade-plus. Much ink has been spilled, and many hands wrung, over the slow asphyxiation of the practice once deemed just as critical to the success of a democratic country as the government. The first domino to fall was the loss of advertising revenue, which exposed the tenuous foundation of the business: in the U.S. the provision of information is inseparable from revenue generation.

This is not new or particularly surprising information. Anyone familiar with the roots of yellow journalism understands the powerful pathway that connects sensationalism to viewership/readership to market share to advertising revenue. In May of 2018, Bloomberg wrote an article about the influx of hedge funds, venture capitalists and investment firms taking over local and state-level media outlets. One of the quotes from Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst and president of Newsonomics, provides an interesting perspective: “They’re not reinvesting in the business … It’s dying and they are going to make every dollar they can on the way down.”

It’s the equivalent of buying a company on the verge of collapse, stripping and selling its assets and turning a profit on its way to bankruptcy.

The PR industry has always danced a bit of an awkward tango with journalism and media. We rely on journalism’s inherent credibility to propel brand narratives, but doing so requires, at times, poking at the foundation of that ethos. As companies and brands become synonymous with source credibility, reporters must be open to business-centric pitches. It’s an ongoing quid pro quo situation that can be both combustible and critical to the existence of both industries.

The recent New York Times article about the rise of ‘robot reporters’ took a surprisingly counterintuitive tack: rather than ring the death knell, it touted how AI could help free up reporters to do more investigative and in-depth work. AI has finally invaded one of the few remaining spaces where the human touch felt the most indispensable. It feels a little sunny for technology that will eliminate the need for daily beat reporters, but much like other industries facing the same squeeze, adaptation matters more than battling the inevitable. Still, it’s an interesting solution to the ‘ROI of journalism’ problem: robots can write stories about humans better than humans.

Will we be pitching robots within the next five years?


Media on the Move

As we track recent movement, it’s worth noting the rise in reporters going in-house, jumping to new publications, and a growing emphasis on tech, which is quickly becoming inseparable from normal coverage beats.


  • John Biggs will leave at the end of the month to launch brand new tech site, The Block, devoted to crypto, blockchain, big tech, and AI. He’s looking for cool tech stories with a unique slant.
  • Sarah Buhr has left her role as tech reporter indefinitely to spend time with her newborn.
  • Eric Eldon returns to TechCrunch as editor after a four-year stint as editor-in-chief at Hoodline.

Huffington Post: The entire HuffPostOpinion section, with editor Chloe Angyal at its helm, has been eliminated.

Buzzfeed: 15% of staff, including members of the news division, has been cut. Included in these layoffs is John Stanton, former Buzzfeed NewsDC bureau chief.

Xconomy: Brian Dowling replaces Jeff Engel as Senior Editor focusing on Boston-area tech.

Popular Science: After five years with the magazine, DIY editor Sophie Bushwick is leaving to begin the role of tech editor at Scientific American.

Vox Media’s Recode: Erica Anderson assumes the position of executive producer of content and partnerships, overseeing media offerings such as podcasts, the Code conference series, and more.

Politico: Mackenzie Mays joins the California Pro team to cover education and budgets.

Sports Illustrated: With three decades at the publication under his belt, Richard Demak is stepping down from his senior editor and chief of reporters roles to become an editor for law firm, O’Melveny & Myers.

Los Angeles magazine: Welcome new editor-in-chief Maer Roshan, who most recently served as chief content officer of FourTwoNine Media.

LA Times: Johana Bhuiyan, formerly at Recode, joined the LA Times as an enterprise reporter focusing on tech accountability.

Washington Business Journal: Emily Van Zandt moves into the role of special projects editor after having served as associate editor for the last two years.

Wall Street Journal: Steven Norton, formerly a reporter for the CIO Journal, left the newspaper for consulting firm Metis Strategy.

Ad Age: Judan Pollack assumes the executive editor position in her 33rd year at the publication.


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