Jun 4, 2024 - Business

Media scrambles for survival ahead of 2024

Illustration of several ships made out of origami newspaper circling down a maelstrom.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Newsrooms typically immersed in political coverage during a presidential election year are instead focused on saving their own businesses.

Why it matters: Major restructurings, layoffs and newsroom overhauls are unusual for America's biggest news companies just months ahead of a highly anticipated presidential race.

  • With business headwinds growing stronger, news leaders know they can't afford to push off changes any longer.
  • Subscription media growth has slowed as publishers struggle to replace customers who canceled their Trump-era subscriptions.

Driving the news: The Washington Post on Sunday announced sweeping changes to its editorial structure and leadership, with its first-ever female executive editor Sally Buzbee stepping down to make way for Matt Murray, former editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal.

  • Murray will take over the role until the 2024 U.S. presidential election, after which he will move to lead a new newsroom division focused on social and service journalism.
  • Robert Winnett, deputy editor of the Telegraph Media Group, will replace Murray as leader of the paper's core newsroom via a newly created position.

Zoom in: The Post is one of several major newsrooms trying to find new readers willing to pay for their journalism online before their traditional products die out.

1. CNN began testing a new strategy last month that asks readers to submit personal data, like their email addresses, if they want to continue reading a certain amount of daily articles for free.

  • It marks the company's most significant consumer-facing effort to begin re-establishing a direct-to-consumer relationship with readers after the fall of its subscription video app, CNN+, in 2022.

2. The Wall Street Journal, similarly, has undergone massive changes to its editorial structure under new editor Emma Tucker, including layoffs announced last week.

  • On Wednesday, the paper introduced a new, multimillion-dollar brand advertising campaign geared toward broadening the Journal's subscriber appeal to a wider set of business professionals, not just finance investors or C-suite executives.

3. ABC News President Kim Godwin, the first Black woman to lead a major broadcast news division, stepped down in May after staffers began to lose confidence in her leadership.

  • Disney executive Debra OConnell will lead the news division for the time being.

The intrigue: Washington Post CEO Will Lewis came under intense fire at a staff meeting early Monday after the sudden announcement around Buzbee's departure, Vanity Fair reports.

  • At one point, he told the paper's staff: "We are losing large amounts of money. Your audience has halved in recent years. People are not reading your stuff. I can't sugarcoat it anymore."

The big picture: More American media companies are focused on consumer revenue amid a weak advertising market and increasing threat from AI.

  • To do so, many are trying to recruit executives with experience managing paywalled newsrooms.

Between the lines: That often comes at the expense of diversity, and in many cases, includes a focus on British talent.

  • The newsroom leaders of The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News are currently all British, hailing from News Corp titles and The Economist. The Washington Post will join that list by the end of the year.
  • On the business side, the Post's Lewis — a longtime News Corp executive — is British, as are his newly installed chief growth and strategy officers.
  • CNN's new leader, Mark Thompson, is a Brit who formerly served as director general of the BBC and the CEO of the New York Times.
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