Axios Media Trends

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October 19, 2021

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Situational awareness:

  • BuzzFeed News is beefing up its tech team with three new hires. A spokesperson tells Axios that the company has hired Rich Nieva from CNET and Aman Sethi, former editor-in-chief of HuffPost India, in addition to Emily Baker-White, whose new role was announced Monday.
  • Axel Springer removed a top editor Monday following a report Sunday from The New York Times that alleged abuse of power was dismissed by the company's CEO.

1 big thing: Kathryn and James Murdoch's next media investment

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

James and Kathryn Murdoch are nearing a deal to make a multi-million dollar investment to support the formation of a new climate reporting hub at the Associated Press, two sources familiar with the deal tell Axios.

Why it matters: The duo has increased their investments in media projects in the past few years via their non-profit organization called Quadrivium Foundation.

Details: The new hub will employ roughly 20 journalists, and will be backed by multiple donors, sources tell Axios.

  • It will support the AP's existing climate reporting efforts. The outlet is already working with several foundations to fund climate and environment coverage.
  • As a part of its standards protocol, the AP says it always maintains editorial independence when working with such partners.

The big picture: The donation to the AP will likely be one of their bigger media investments to-date.

  • The pair donated $5 million to the American Journalism Project in September to support local news.
  • It funds a non-profit led by conservatives called Defending Democracy Together, which publishes The Bulwark, a center-right news site founded in 2018 in opposition to Trumpism.
  • Quadrivium also backs SciLine, a nonpartisan, nonprofit service for journalists and scientists focused on science news. Kathryn Murdoch sits on its board.
  • Quadrivium was a founding donor for The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom focused on covering the intersection of gender, politics and policy. Kathryn Murdoch sits on its board.

Between the lines: While the investments are made of behalf of the Quadrivium Foundation, Kathryn Murdoch often takes on a leadership role.

  • One source whose media company is funded by the Quadrivium Foundation says Kathryn Murdoch is "not an interventionist, but she pays attention. ... She does not try to micro-manage."

The bottom line: In recent years, James and Kathryn Murdoch have distanced themselves from the Murdoch empire, investing in candidates and causes across the political spectrum.

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2. Washington Post masthead shakeup

Kat Downs Mulder, the Washington Post's managing editor for digital and a rising star in the newsroom, has been named chief product officer and managing editor, according to internal memos sent from newsroom leaders and shared with Axios.

  • The Post also announced several new masthead leadership changes, including a new managing editor to oversee a wide array of national news verticals and a deputy managing editor for news operations.

Why it matters: The masthead updates are the latest newsroom leadership changes announced under Sally Buzbee, The Post's new executive editor. Last month, The Post said it would be adding 41 new editing positions.

Details: Downs Mulder in her new role will report to both Buzbee and Shailesh Prakash, who is chief information officer.

  • Cameron Barr, a managing editor and a Post veteran, will become senior managing editor.
  • Krissah Thompson’s portfolio as managing editor will expand to include the oversight of the Post's Features section and its climate and environment team.
  • Tracy Grant, who has climbed the ranks of The Post over the past nearly three decades, will leave her role as managing editor for staff development and standards to go back to focusing full-time on reporting and writing come January 1.

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3. Crooked Media takes on Biden era

Crooked Media's Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer. Photo courtesy of Crooked Media

Crooked Media, a progressive political media company known primarily for its "Pod Save America" podcast series, is launching a new weekly interview series hosted by co-founder Jon Favreau called "Offline with Jon Favreau."

  • The series will include interviews with celebrities, journalists and activists such as Monica Lewinsky, Megan Rapinoe, DeRay Mckesson and Jia Tolentino. Eight episodes will air weekly, every Sunday morning. Episodes are typically 40-50 minutes.

The big picture: Crooked Media was launched in 2017 by former Obama staffers as a strong opposition voice to the Trump administration, and has since broadened its scope to cover a range of issues impacting democracy writ large.

  • It now employs 70 people, up from 40 at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • The group, which has never taken any outside funding, makes its money from ads, touring, merchandise, and licensing its franchises for streaming shows.

What's next: Moving forward, the group is looking to do a lot more in television and licensing its content across different platforms.

  • Favreau says the company's popular "Wind of Change" podcast has been licensed to a show with Hulu. "Keep It," the company's pop culture podcast, may also make it to television, he notes.

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4. Facebook doubling down on curated News Tab

Facebook's VP of global news partnerships Campbell Brown; Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Facebook is looking to introduce more curated news products for its News Tab in coming months, including more curated collections around big events and breaking news, its VP of global news partnerships Campbell Brown told Axios.

By the numbers: According to new data provided to Axios, Facebook says the News Tab now contributes to over 30% of overall Facebook news link referral traffic for U.S., UK and German publishers included in the tab. 

Publishers Axios has spoken to say Facebook News Tab has so far been a more reliable source of traffic than the News Feed.

  • "We appreciate the fact that Facebook is recognizing the value of quality journalism and paying to run it on their platform," a BuzzFeed spokesperson said.

Yes, but: It's unclear if and how Facebook will continue funding publishers for their work.

  • “We’re examining what that looks like," a spokesperson said. "We’re taking a look at how the product has evolved since launch and how partners have or have not benefited from it."

The big picture: Facebook for years was hesitant to lean into news curation, with its chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg saying in 2017 "we don't hire journalists."

  • But today, the company leans on people with editorial backgrounds to curate products in its News Tab in addition to using algorithms.

What's next: Soon Facebook will begin including content from its Bulletin newsletter program writers into its news products within the News Tab.

  • Brown says Bulletin, which has over 100 writers, will soon expand globally.

5. Facebook traffic referrals overall have remained mostly flat

Chart: Axios Visuals; Data:
Chart: Axios Visuals; Data:

Despite changes to its News Feed algorithm in the past year to downplay politics, referral traffic to media publishers (not just news publishers) has remained relatively flat, according to data from traffic analytics company

By the numbers: In the past 12 months, Facebook has been responsible for roughly 25% of the referral traffic to media publishers within's customer set of thousands of outlets.

  • Facebook used to distribute a higher percentage of traffic to publishers before making sweeping changes to its algorithm in early 2018.

The big picture: Many publishers have shifted their strategies to focus on traffic from Facebook News in order to withstand News Feed algorithm changes.

👀 Facebook released a series of tweets Monday criticizing journalists for working on a "coordinated series of articles based on thousands of pages of leaked documents."

  • Journalists were quick to respond, calling out the tech giant for hypocrisy around embargoes.

6. Explosion of content jobs

Jobs and GDP growth supported by the commercial internet
Data: Interactive Advertising Bureau; Table: Axios Visuals

A new report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau finds that jobs related to news, information and entertainment companies have grown significantly in the past decade.

  • The number of people employed in news and information-related publishing tripled between 2008 and 2020 to more than 142,000 people.
  • The internet employs almost as many creators (200,000 full-time equivalent jobs) as the rest of the U.S. entertainment industry.
  • The digital entertainment sector grew revenues and jobs by 13 times and four times, respectively, compared to 2008.

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7. Snapchat launches branded content studio focused on AR


Snapchat's new branded studio, called "Arcadia," is debuting Tuesday in time for Advertising Week, with a focus on building out augmented reality advertising programs for brands.

Why it matters: The new studio will exist as an independent content studio within Snapchat, and will have the freedom to help clients build augmented reality programs for other platforms, including competitive tech companies.

8. 1 fun thing: TikTok drives new nostalgia economy

Illustration of a gramophone playing music with Tik Tok’s logo.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Older brands, trends and technologies are making a comeback as younger consumers desperately chase slower, less chaotic times.

The big picture: TikTok's algorithm makes it easy for flashback items to resurface and quickly go viral both on its platform and eventually on other social networks.

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