Axios Media Trends

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June 09, 2020

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Mark your calendar: Axios will be hosting two live virtual events on how CEOs are taking action in this time of crisis and preparing for an uncertain future.

  • Today at 12:30 p.m. ET, Axios business editor Dan Primack and markets reporter Courtenay Brown talk with NYSE President Stacey Cunningham and Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman. Register here.
  • On June 11, at 12:30 p.m. ET, I will speak with Accenture CEO Julie Sweet and CVS Health president and CEO Larry J. Merlo. Register here.

1 big thing: The nerve center of our news cycle

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The fast-moving world of Twitter has become the nerve center of the American news cycle — as evidenced by record-breaking downloads and engagement for the service last week, Axios' Bryan Walsh and I write.

The big picture: Twitter and other online platforms have opened a wide path for powerful images — like those of the killing of George Floyd — to reach the public.

  • But the constant flow of sensational content from everyday users, often lacking key context and unverified, also promotes polarization and the spread of misinformation.

Driving the news: Over the past few weeks, viral videos about race relations in America have driven the news cycle, creating micro social movements within themselves — for better or worse.

  • Police protest supercut videos have proven wildly popular online, per The New York Times, helping to spur the #DefundThePolice movement growing alongside the racial protests.
  • A video of a woman calling the police on a black bird watcher in Central Park on Memorial Day also racked up over 40 million views on Twitter.
  • In one story that recently went viral, a man was misidentified on Twitter and other platforms last week as the person who'd been caught on video attacking people for posting racial justice flyers in D.C. Online sleuths had wrongly connected him with the incident thanks to data his bike-riding app publicly recorded.

By the numbers: Wednesday was the number one day in Twitter's history for downloads with 677,000 globally, per app measurement company Apptopia. It also set a record for daily active users on Twitter in the U.S. that day, with 40 million.

Our thought bubble: Twitter sets the news cycle's pulse because so many journalists are addicted to it. Its power is in agenda-setting out in the open, instead of behind the closed doors of an editorial meeting.

Be smart: Twitter has long stood out as the social media network with some of the most news-focused users, per Pew Research Center.

  • About 1 in every 5 U.S. adults uses Twitter, and 71% of those users get news on Twitter.
  • While videos from one site are often reimagined and then reposted on other platforms, like Instagram and YouTube, often the raw footage from live news events is first posted on Twitter.

Go deeper.

2. Top editors booted as newsrooms grapple with race

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A slew of high-level resignations by top editors over the past three days shows how much pressure the protests are putting on media companies to confront shortcomings on diversity and on covering race.

Why it matters: The last time the industry faced such a reckoning was the #MeToo era, which saw the departures of dozens of top bosses.

  • Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigned on Monday after a picture surfaced of he and his wife dressed in brownface. Rapoport also faced pressure from women who spoke out on social media about a culture of discrimination against women of color at the magazine.
  • Refinery29's co-founder and editor-in-chief Christene Barberich announced Monday that she is stepping down from her role as editor-in-chief in light of allegations from former employees of workplace discrimination against black women.
  • The New York Times' opinion editor James Bennet resigned Sunday after widespread internal and external criticism mounted over his decision to green-light an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that called on President Trump to "send in the troops" in order to quell violent protests over the death of George Floyd.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer's longtime top editor Stan Wischnowski stepped down Saturday after the company was slammed for publishing an article with the headline "Buildings Matter, too," prompting dozens to stage a virtual walkout at the company.

3. Journalism's moment of reckoning

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The protests have forced many media companies to seriously reckon with their own long-standing policies around newsroom diversity, social media use, activism and coverage of race issues.

  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is being slammed by its own journalists for barring two African American journalists from covering protests in the city because of "apparent bias."
  • Variety editor-in-chief Claudia Eller was placed on a two-month administrative leave last week after receiving criticism for a Twitter back and forth about an op-ed she wrote about diversity.
  • Fox News anchor Bret Baier apologized to his viewers on Monday for airing an image last week that noted the stock market's rally in the wake of George Floyd's death and other notable deaths of black men.

The big picture: The protests are also forcing some outlets to take a harder look at whether and how they should allow journalists to publicly support or speak out about issues they care about.

  • Axios, like other media companies, has addressed internally whether employees are allowed to participate in protests, according to an internal email obtained by The New York Times.
  • Business Insider's top editors have reportedly also had conversations with staff over its policy about whether journalists can donate to bail funds following public outcry.
  • The Washington Post and The Times have grappled for years about how journalists speak out on social media. The Times on Monday obtained a report about "Recommendations for Social Media Use" that was commissioned by The Post about how reporters have used social media in the past.

The bottom line: Many companies are having to re-examine long-standing policies around activism, diversity and social media use from a moral lens.

  • The key, as The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan notes, lies in whether journalists and journalistic institutions are able to uphold their core missions of serving their readers while also considering ways to make moral choices surrounding civil rights, press rights, racial justice and gender equity.

4. Coronavirus news consumers often those most impacted by virus

Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

Black Americans are paying more attention than white Americans to every element of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, Axios' health care reporter Caitlin Owens and I write.

  • The big picture: Black Americans have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic and its economic fallout. This survey could be reflecting the fact that people pay more attention to stories that hit closer to home.

Between the lines: Other recent studies from Pew also suggest that younger Americans are less likely to pay attention to news about the pandemic than older generations, further supporting the notion that people at higher risk are paying the most attention.

5. Biden goes big on Facebook amid protests

Data: Advertising Analytics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Advertising Analytics; Chart: Axios Visuals

Joe Biden has poured a lot more money than that he typically spends on digital advertising over the past two weeks in an attempt to capitalize on Trump's response to nationwide protests about police violence. The majority of the money has been spent on Facebook over Google.

Why it matters: The Trump campaign attributes much of its 2016 success to its digital advertising strategy on Facebook and until now, the Biden campaign has been outspent by the Trump campaign online, and especially on Facebook.

Details: Biden's campaign increased by 5x his usual weekly expenditure on Facebook the week of May 31st, according to data provided to Axios from Advertising Analytics.

  • Before that, in the four weeks following the conclusion of the Democratic primary, Biden spent nearly an equal amount to the Trump campaign on digital advertising, primarily on Google and Facebook.
  • Since mid-March, the Trump campaign has outspent the Biden campaign on digital $20.3 million to $13.4 million.

By the numbers: According to a Biden campaign official, the campaign has spent $1 million on Google since June 1st, and $5.5 million on Facebook. The advertising has helped to drive 1.2 million new sign ups on the campaign's email list.

  • The Trump campaign has a head start, having spent millions on Facebook ads since the beginning of 2019.
  • As a result, the Trump campaign's operation typically runs 10 times the number of unique creatives, or ad variations, as the Biden campaign, per Advertising Analytics.

Go deeper: Money still pouring into election ads

6. Social media companies takes on world leaders

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Social media companies are finally beginning to take action on posts from world leaders that violate their policies, after years of letting them mostly say whatever they wanted unfiltered to millions of people.

Why it matters: Government officials are among the users most likely to abuse the wide reach and minimal regulation of tech platforms.

  • Mounting pressure to stop harmful content from spreading amid the coronavirus pandemic, racial protests and a looming U.S. election has spurred some companies to finally do something about it.

Case-in-point: Snapchat said Wednesday that it will no longer promote President Trump's account on its "Discover" page of curated content, a spokesperson told Axios, after Trump tweeted comments that some suggested glorified violence amid racial justice protests.

The big picture: Tech companies often create carve-outs for world leaders in their content moderation policies, because they don't want to take down posts that could be of public interest. But those parameters have been tested as world leaders have used that freedom to suit their political needs.

Read the Trump campaign's reaction.

7. Reddit's reckoning

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian's resignation Friday from the company's board served as a reminder that it's not just Twitter, Facebook and YouTube wrestling with how to regulate speech online, Axios' Ina Fried and I write.

Driving the news: In a video posted to Twitter, Ohanian said he resigned as a member of the Reddit board and asked the company to fill his seat with a black candidate, a request that CEO Steve Hoffman, in an open letter, said will be honored.

Between the lines: While Reddit's system of upvotes and downvotes suggest a measure of democracy, critics say the service’s design and culture have left it dominated by the white, male voices that formed its early user base and leadership, often discouraging diverse and emerging voices.

  • That very concern spurred former Reddit president Ellen Pao to rip Huffman last week, ahead of Ohanian's resignation.

The bottom line: Ohanian didn't explicitly raise any objections about how Reddit is run. But his resignation and push for more black representation in the boardroom align with longstanding calls for Reddit to take firmer action against white nationalists and other extremists on its platform.

8. 1 fun thing: Viral quicksand

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Stories about President Trump's photo op at St. John's church after peaceful protesters were forcefully cleared from the area averaged the most online attention of any issue about the president last week, Axios' Neal Rothschild writes.

Why it matters: Trump's force-over-compassion approach to the demonstrators protesting the murder of George Floyd had Republican allies backpedaling to keep a distance — and led to a wave of condemnations that got plenty of online traction on their own.

Go deeper.