Jun 25, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

😎 Good Tuesday morning from San Francisco!

  • Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,466 words ... ~ 5 minutes.
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🏆 Hugest congrats to Alexi McCammond, Axios 2020 reporter and one of the earliest Axios journalists, who yesterday was named Emerging Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ):

  • "[H]er drive, tenacity and commitment to holding those in power accountable ... allowed her to quickly emerge as a force in political journalism." Details here.
1 big thing: "Trump slump" hits big media

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Top news executives say an acute "Trump slump" is hitting media, especially digital and cable, Axios' Sara Fischer and Neal Rothschild report.

  • Why it matters: The shock factor around President Trump's impulsive announcements, chaotic staff, taunting tweets and erratic behavior is wearing off, and media companies are scrambling to find their next big moneymaker.

Driving the news: Media executives say audience interest in political coverage overall is down, which is spurring investments in other beats, like technology and the global economy.

  • Democrats don't appear to be the lifeline news organizations are hoping can fill the gap for diminished Trump interest. Executives expect this week’s debate ratings to be nothing like the ratings for the 2016 Trump debates.
  • Be smart: 2020 Democrats don't have a knockout media star to drive interest. Dems' biggest media attraction has been Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who isn't running for president.

By the numbers: Digital demand for Trump-related content (number of article views compared to number of articles written) dropped 29% between the first six months of the Trump presidency and the most recent six months, according to data from traffic analytics company Parse.ly.

  • Evidence that Trump's social media star power was also beginning to wear off surfaced last month, when Axios reported that his tweets were receiving less than half the engagement that they got when he first took office.

Similar trends are happening in more traditional media settings:

  • In March, New York Times COO Meredith Kopit Levien told Axios during a panel at SXSW that the paper's subscription "Trump bump” ended in mid-2018.
  • In December, media research firm MoffettNathanson found that live news network ratings were down "in the -10% to -20% range" in 2018.
  • The firm found that ratings around TV news coverage overall began to decline after the 2016 election.

Our thought bubble: The Trump bump that buoyed the news industry through difficult economic times isn't sustainable, and media companies that were once reliant on politics coverage to get through tough times are going to have to pivot.

2. First look: Economic trouble in Trump country
"Flipped" counties from 2016. Map via Economic Innovation Group

Swing counties that backed Barack Obama, then flipped to Donald Trump in 2016, are struggling economically — a potential problem for his re-election bid, which depends heavily on the president celebrating national economic gains.

  • The Economic Innovation Group, in a report provided first to Axios, found that these "flipped" counties "experienced slower growth in employment, a slower rise in the number of [businesses], and a more pervasive decline in prime-age workers than consistently Democratic or Republican counties."

There are 207 counties where Obama won in both '08 and '12, before they flipped to Trump in '16.

  • The state with the most flipped counties is Iowa, at 31, followed by Wisconsin with 23 and Minnesota with 19.
2016 election results. Map via Economic Innovation Group
3. "I'm being watched at Amazon Go — and I don't care"
AmazonBasics private label products on the shelves at Go in Seattle. Photos: Erica Pandey/Axios

Big Tech is betting hard that consumers, especially younger ones, won't care too much what you know about them as long as you give them really cool stuff.

  • I would know, I’m one of them, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.
  • I, like scores of others, have decided that I'm OK with giving up personal data in order to keep getting convenient, cheap (or free) services.

Two weeks ago, while in Seattle, I visited my first Amazon Go store. The small, seemingly harmless shop's capabilities for snooping are immense.

  • It knows I picked up a soda, thought about buying it, but decided not to. And Amazon can later feed me ads for soda, or come out with its own, lower-calorie Amazon soda for me and others like me.
  • It knows exactly how I moved about the store, what items I bought together and when I bought them.
  • Amazon can use my walking patterns, along with those of hundreds of thousands of others, to better design its store and aisles and sell more stuff.
  • Amazon can combine Go insights with all of its pre-existing data about my online shopping, watching and listening habits through Amazon Prime and Alexa to create an even fuller picture of me.

But when it comes to Go — or Instagram following what I'm "liking" to point me to clothes I'll buy or Uber tracking where I'm going and what I'm ordering — I just don't care what the company knows.

  • As one millennial friend put it, "Take my data; give me free shit."
4. Megatrend: The new "data capitalism"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Around the world, companies big and small are feverishly plotting our future lifestyle — smart cities, driverless vehicles, wearable technology, internet-connected everything at home — all activated by our voices and thoughts, Axios Future editor Steve LeVine writes.

  • Behind these aspirations: The aim of knowing every possible thing, public and private, in real time, about you and every other reachable individual on the planet — where they go, what they do, say and feel.

What's happening: For almost two decades, a tiny handful of companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and China's Alibaba and Tencent, have created this new economy as a byproduct of their powerful platforms.

  • They're peddling certainty about what we will do next, often set in motion using techniques of behavior modification.

Shoshana Zuboff of Harvard Business School, author of "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism," distinguishes this new economic order from the old industrial capitalism with its core aim of producing a tangible good.

  • The new product is a stream of predictions that Big Tech can sell.
5. SpaceX's "toughest launch"
Photo: John Raoux/AP

Early this morning, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched its heftiest rocket, with 24 research satellites aboard, from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

  • Musk tweeted: "Waiting for Falcon Heavy to launch means high cortisol levels. This is our toughest rocket launch ever."

The Defense Department mission carried 24 satellites, a deep-space atomic clock, solar sail, a clean and green rocket fuel testbed, and ... human ashes, per AP.

  • NASA signed up for a spot on the rocket, along with NOAA, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Planetary Society and Celestis Inc., which offers memorial flights into space.
6. Can Dems win back the internet?
This billboard is across from the site of tomorrow's debate, the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, in Miami. Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP

Snapchat host Peter Hamby argues today in a big Vanity Fair piece that Democrats are largely ceding the content wars to the Trumpy right and their meme factories, hoping that facts and reason will naturally triumph.

  • But Hamby writes that a bunch of Democratic startups are trying to fight back, using artificial intelligence and advanced listening techniques to better understand the vibrations of the Internet — and help Democrats catch up.
  • Go deeper.
7. Surprise choice for studio chief reflects streaming era
Photo: WarnerMedia via AP

"When Ann Sarnoff steps onto the Warner Bros. lot as its new chair and CEO later this summer, she’ll be the first woman to hold the job in the 96-year history of the studio," The Hollywood Reporter's Rebecca Keegan writes.

  • Sarnoff, 57, currently is president of BBC Studios Americas.

Her talks about the job with WarnerMedia chief John Stankey "centered on the dramatic changes in consumer behavior facing the media giant, which will launch its own streaming service later this year."

  • "We talked about all the shape-shifting happening, the disruption of how people are consuming media and the new routes to market," said Sarnoff, who helped launch a streaming service called Britbox at the BBC.
8. Frosty U.S.-Palestinian ties shape Bahrain conference

Barak Ravid of Israel's Channel 13 writes for Axios from Manama, Bahrain:

  • The U.S.-led conference to launch the economic part of President Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan will begin today in Bahrain amid an ever-growing crisis between the White House and Palestinian leadership.
  • Why it matters: The White House and the Palestinian Authority are both hoping Palestinian public opinion will favor their narrative around the plan.

Go deeper.

9. U.S. sanctions are losing their bite

Russia's booming stock market and currency, China's second quarter bounce and Nicolás Maduro's ability to hold power in Venezuela:

  • They all have flown directly in the face of the perceived power of the U.S. to use sanctions to cajole bad actors on the international stage, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

Why it matters: As the Trump administration mulls further punitive actions on China, Iran and a growing list of countries, there's growing evidence the U.S. is losing its coercive power.

  • That's been particularly notable in the case of Russia, which has been delivering solid returns to investors, despite facing U.S. sanctions for years.
  • Go deeper.
10. 1 sign of our times
Participants included (top row from left): Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mark Hamill, Zachary Quinto and Annette Bening. Bottom row from left: John Lithgow, Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline and Michael Shannon. Photos: AP

Stars perform Mueller report: John Lithgow joined a growing list of actors who have taken on the role of President Trump in a live reading of the Mueller report, AP's Katie Campione writes:

  • Against the backdrop of the ornate altar of New York City's Riverside Church, a cast of Hollywood A-listers participated in a live reading of portions of the Mueller report last evening as part of "The Investigation: A Search for Truth in Ten Acts."
  • The reading was streamed by Law Works.

The reading also featured Kevin Kline as Mueller, Joel Grey as Jeff Sessions, Jason Alexander as Chris Christie, and Alfre Woodard as Hope Hicks.

  • Annette Bening narrated, and Mark Hamill, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Sigourney Weaver made recorded video appearances.
Mike Allen

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