Aug 1, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🗞️ Situational awareness: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — who in July announced his retirement from the Army, citing "bullying" following his impeachment testimony — writes in a WashPost op-ed posted this morning:

  • "Our national government during the past few years has been more reminiscent of the authoritarian regime my family fled more than 40 years ago [Ukraine, then a Soviet republic] than the country I have devoted my life to serving."

⛱️ Happy Saturday, and welcome to August!

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 982 words ... 4 minutes.
1 big thing: Instagram morphs into info-powerhouse

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Instagram is transforming: What was once a place to share frivolous pics has become a hub for information and advocacy.

  • Text, infographics and newsy illustrations are exploding on the app, Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer report.

Why it matters: The pandemic and racial justice movement brought purpose and focus to its millions of users, supercharging the urgency to get educated and share useful information.

  • The pandemic put an end to all the fun that users typically posted, while also creating a pressing need for reliable health information.

The big picture: The information ecosystems on Twitter and Facebook are well entrenched, leaving many people — particularly the younger-skewing Instagram crowd — to seek a new space.

  • Then in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, it was primed not just for information, but activism.

"Instagram felt like a place for a clean, fresh start," Mosheh Oinounou, a digital consultant and former TV news producer, tells Axios.

  • Oinounou, who has created an informational Instagram, said people are turning to Instagram Stories for "charts, infographics, quotes and headlines because they feel overwhelmed by the news."

Accounts that have leaned into this trend have seen growth skyrocket:

Big publishers are also benefiting:

  • @ProPublica, which had already been posting text-centric information, saw 70% follower growth in the last 6 months, almost all coming since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, according to CrowdTangle data.
  • Refinery29 (2.4 million followers) went from 41% text-based info-posts in January to 72% in July, according to an Axios analysis. Business Insider (2.3 million) went from 5% to 48%.

Between the lines: A key shift in how information on Instagram spreads came in mid-2018, when the app allowed users to share posts from the feed to their Stories, unlocking a 1-to-many share mechanism that allowed posts to get massive audiences.

  • Instagram doesn't have a traditional share button to drive virality.

Share this story.

2. Trump vows to ban TikTok

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump said on Air Force One last night that he plans to ban Chinese video app TikTok as soon as today, via either executive order or emergency economic powers, Kia Kokalitcheva writes.

  • "As far as TikTok is concerned we’re banning them from the United States," he told the press pool. "I have that authority."

Why it matters: TikTok has been caught in the crossfire of escalating tensions between the U.S. and China.

Earlier yesterday, news broke that Microsoft is in talks to potentially acquire TikTok from its parent company, ByteDance. (A group of investors has also reportedly made a bid).

  • Trump made clear he was not in favor of a deal to let a U.S. company buy TikTok’s American operations, according to the pool report.
3. NBA's China academy push: "Find another Yao"

NBA store in Beijing. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

"American coaches at three NBA training academies in China told league officials their Chinese partners were physically abusing young players and failing to provide schooling," ESPN's Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada write.

  • "We were basically working for the Chinese government," one former coach said.

Context: "With a population four times the size of the U.S., China is an exploding market for the NBA. The league's soaring revenues were propelled in part by the success of former Rockets center Yao Ming, who retired in 2011."

  • "In an interview with ESPN about its findings, NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum, who oversees international operations, said the NBA is 'reevaluating' ... the academy program, which operates out of sports facilities run by the Chinese government."

Keep reading.

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Tom Brenner/Reuters

Trump supporters are seen through the windows of President Trump's armored limo, "The Beast," as he addresses a crowd gathered to greet him on the tarmac at Tampa International Airport yesterday.

5. U.S. preps to buy hundreds of millions of vaccine doses

Spotted in San Francisco yesterday. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is paying GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi $2.1 billion to help the companies get their coronavirus vaccine through clinical trials, cover some manufacturing costs and purchase an initial batch of 100 million doses, Axios health care business reporter Bob Herman writes.

  • The deal, which includes the option of buying another 500 million doses, is part of the administration's Operation Warp Speed plan to accelerate development of as many promising vaccine candidates as possible.

Context, from the Financial Times (subscription): "Other companies that have secured U.S. funding for their experimental Covid-19 vaccines include Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Novovax."

6. Rich New Yorkers' exodus to Florida
$14.995 million offering in Miami Beach. Photo: The Jills Zeder Group

New Yorkers are flooding sellers in places like Miami and Palm Beach "with offers, and the supply of available properties is plunging," Bloomberg's Oshrat Carmiel reports.

  • "What was the three-to-five year plan is now the three-to-five month plan,” Simon Isaacs, a Palm Beach luxury broker told Bloomberg. "If everything shuts down again, do you want to be stuck in an apartment in New York, or do you want to be stuck in a home in Florida?"

What's happening: "Florida’s favorable tax laws have long been a draw for high-net-worth individuals, but the pandemic’s disruptions — to work, school, public safety and northern states’ budgets — have increased the allure."

7. James Murdoch splits over editorial differences
Rupert Murdoch poses with his sons Lachlan (left) and James at Rupert's 2016 wedding (his fourth) in London to actress-model Jerry Hall. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

James Murdoch, the younger son of Rupert Murdoch, resigned from the board of News Corp. — which owns the New York Post and Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal — marking "his full departure from the family’s businesses," The Journal's Lukas Alpert reports (subscription).

  • "My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions," Murdoch said in his resignation letter.

Context: "James Murdoch’s political inclinations have been at odds with others in the family empire."

  • "Earlier this year, as wildfires raged in his family’s native Australia, James Murdoch publicly criticized coverage of climate change in News Corp’s newspapers and on Fox Corp’s Fox News."
8. 1 smile to go
Mike Luckovich/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Twitter

Bruce Mehlman adds this friendly amendment: "The arc of history."

Mike Allen

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