December 21, 2019

📦 Happy Saturday!

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 967 words ... 3½ minutes.

1 big thing: Tough times for journalism, when we need it most

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Dogged reporting helped journalism shine in 2019, but the economic outlook of the news industry is still grim heading into 2020, Sara Fischer reports.

  • What's new: The impeachment process has shown that voters are starting to tune out political coverage, which for the past few years has been the news industry's biggest money-maker. That reality, coupled with an anticipated recession, has newsrooms on edge.
  • Why it matters: Legacy industries continue to serve local news markets, which are mostly void of the same investments financially, and in tech and talent, as national outlets.

The challenges that most media companies face have forced them to innovate faster, and in many cases, reach new heights.

  • Many broke stories this year that will define our generation, like The Washington Post's investigation into the decades-long lies told by officials about the war in Afghanistan or The Miami Herald's explosive reporting about Jeffrey Epstein.

Where things stand: 2019 was a particularly brutal year for older news operations, like newspapers, magazines, television and radio. Revenue for television was down nearly 4% this year, and for print it was down nearly 20%.

  • The two biggest local newspaper holding groups — New Media (GateHouse and Gannett) and McClatchy, which collectively house over 700 newspapers — had a combined market cap value of less than $800 million as of Thursday. By comparison, Apple, which this year launched its own news product, is worth more than $1.2 trillion.

These challenges took a human toll on journalists and news industry employees around the country.

  • By some estimates, nearly 8,000 people were laid off or lost their jobs in media in 2019. That level of attrition is on pace to be the highest it's been since the 2009 recession.

The bottom line: Despite feats of reporting, news media companies have mostly suffered — and there's no sign that the economic outlook is going to get better.

2. Republicans vastly outraise Dems

Impeachment is juicing Republican fundraising. Here, Leslie Baca watches in Denver. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The RNC goes into the presidential election year with more than seven times as much cash on hand as the DNC — $63 million vs. $8.3 million, according to the parties' FEC filings.

  • The RNC raised $20.6 million last month, a November record for the party — more than twice as much as the DNC's $8 million, per Politico Playbook.
  • How it happened: Much of the RNC money is raised jointly with the Trump campaign.

Why it matters: Far from putting Republicans back on their heels, impeachment is energizing Trump's base just as the 2020 march to Election Day kicks off.

  • This is a stark new sign of what we've been reporting all year — that Trump's digitally driven campaign is giving him a massive fundraising and organizing advantage over whoever emerges from the Democratic race.

For now, the DNC has to take a back seat to a bunch of well-organized Democrats who want to be the nominee, while the RNC is free to vacuum up cash with no competition.

  • One well-wired Democrat told me: "25 candidates have spread the wealth a lot. Only good news is that Bloomberg could even the score with a very small stroke of his mighty pen."

3. Nipping a Santa shutdown

President Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act yesterday at Joint Base Andrews, Md., en route to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Trump signed a $1.37 trillion spending measure last night, avoiding a government shutdown before the holidays.

  • Why it matters, per Axios' Jacob Knutson: Unlike last year, when the U.S. government shut down for 35 days from December through January, Trump was willing to accept less funding than he originally requested for the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • He wanted $8 billion for the wall, but Congress only fulfilled $1.375 billion for fence construction, according to NPR.

The Trump administration had threatened to veto the carefully negotiated package if House Democrats didn't drop a provision that would have required the prompt release of any future military aid for Ukraine, per the WashPost.

  • "House Democrats tried to insert language in this week’s spending package that would have required the White House Office of Management and Budget to sign off on and release Pentagon funding for Ukraine within 45 days."
  • "Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland made clear that the Ukraine provision was among a handful of absolute non-starters for Trump."

4. Pic du jour: Behold, the wine cave!

Photo: Terence Chea/AP

Kathryn and Craig Hall, owners of Hall Rutherford Winery in Napa Valley, stand inside the "wine cave" dining room where they held a fundraising dinner for Pete Buttigieg that was mocked by Elizabeth Warren in Thursday's debate.

  • The Halls told AP's Terence Chea that wine caves are common at wineries in Napa Valley and other wine-growing regions because they're good for storing wine at cool temperatures.
  • They also said it's misleading to suggest, as Warren did, that the winery sells $900 bottles of wine. Its most expensive wine costs about $350 a bottle, though they sell an extra-large bottle — equivalent to four standard-size bottles — for about $900. And they did not serve the most expensive wine they have at the Buttigieg event.

5. 2019's best photos

Photo: Ariel Schalit/AP

The Israeli Iron Dome air defense system takes out rockets fired from Gaza near Sderot, Israel, on May 4.

6. 1 cat thing: 11,000 "Garfield" strips for sale

Photo: LM Otero/AP

Cartoonist Jim Davis is offering 30+ years of "Garfield" comic strips, hand-drawn on paper, in a rolling auction with new offerings week by week, AP reports.

  • "There are just so many, and it was such a daunting task to figure what to do with them so that they could be out there where people enjoy them too," said Davis, who lives in Indiana.
  • Davis, who is 74, said he has no plans to retire from drawing the comic featuring the fat, orange, lasagna-eating feline known for his dislike of Mondays and diets.

The strips span from the launch of "Garfield" in 1978 to 2011, when Davis began drawing the strip digitally.

  • He still draws it by hand, but now it's with a stylus on a tablet instead of on paper with a pencil, pen and brush.
Photo: LM Otero/AP

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