Axios Media Trends

Two interconnected white triangles on a red square, both pointing forward.

October 09, 2018

Thanks for subscribing to Media Trends. Tell friends to follow along by signing up here.

Mark your calendar: AXIOS on HBO premieres Sunday 11/4 on HBO. Catch all four episodes at 6:30 p.m. on 11/4, 11/11, 11/18, & 11/25.

1 big thing: Look at this list

Illustration: Caresse Haaser, Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Dozens of new initiatives have launched over the past few years to address fake news and the erosion of faith in the media, creating a measurement problem of its own.

Why it matters: So many new efforts are launching simultaneously to solve the same problem that it’s become difficult to track which ones do what and which ones are partnering with each other.

To name a few:

  • The Trust Project, which is made up of dozens of global news companies, announced this morning that the number of journalism organizations using the global network’s "Trust Indicators" now totals 120, making it one of the larger global initiatives to combat fake news. Some of these groups (like NewsGuard) work with Trust Project and are a part of it.
  • News Integrity Initiative (Facebook, Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Tow Foundation, AppNexus, Mozilla and Betaworks)
  • NewsGuard (Longtime journalists and media entrepreneurs Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz)
  • The Journalism Trust Initiative (Reporters Without Borders, and Agence France Presse, the European Broadcasting Union and the Global Editors Network )
  • Internews (Longtime international non-profit)
  • Accountability Journalism Program (American Press Institute)
  • Trusting News (Reynolds Journalism Institute)
  • Media Manipulation Initiative (Data & Society)
  • (Frédéric Filloux)
  • Trust & News Initiative (Knight Foundation, Facebook and Craig Newmark in. affiliation with Duke University)
  • Our.News (Independently run)
  • WikiTribune (Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales)

There are also dozens of fact-checking efforts being championed by different third-parties, as well as efforts being built around blockchain and artificial intelligence.

Between the lines: Most of these efforts include some sort of mechanism for allowing readers to physically discern real journalism from fake news via some sort of badge or watermark, but that presents problems as well.

  • Attempts to flag or call out news as being real and valid have in the past been rejected even further by those who wish to discredit vetted media.
  • For example, Facebook said in December that it will no longer use "Disputed Flags" — red flags next to fake news articles — to identify fake news for users, because it found that "putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs – the opposite effect to what we intended."

The big picture: Data from Gallup shows that confidence in media as an institution is at an all-time low, and both the media and the current political climate are probably to blame.

  • Some reporters have become less objective at their jobs. By my count, nearly a dozen journalists have lost their jobs over bad social media posts, most politically charged.
  • On the other hand, undermining the credibility of the media has been a long-term political strategy for President Trump and the far right.
  • The erosion in trust in the media mimics the erosion of trust in most other American institutions — like the Catholic Church, Supreme Court and public schools.

The bottom line: These efforts are valiant, and are most certainly helping to hold the ecosystem accountable for transparent journalism. But the field is so crowded right now it’s hard to see who is making progress.

2. Exclusive: Forbes is trying out the blockchain

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Forbes, the century-old business publisher, is joining forces with Civil, a journalism blockchain network, to become the first major media company to experiment with publishing stories to the blockchain.

Why it matters: Many publishers are skeptical of introducing blockchain technology into their supply chains, because it’s new and it’s difficult to understand. Forbes is sending a message to the industry that they think blockchain for journalism is the future.

The big picture: Forbes is experimenting with publishing a sample of its content to the Civil Network. Eventually, the broad goal is to one day migrate all of its published content over to the blockchain.

How it works: Forbes will plug in Civil’s software to its proprietary content management system, called “Bertie.”

  • Once plugged in, Forbes journalists will be able to upload their metadata to the Civil network early next year, while simultaneously publishing to
  • The company will begin uploading cryptocurrency content first — an editorial focus they’ve increased investment in lately. If the experiment works well, other topics will follow.

Go deeper: More on

3. The Trump political media frenzy is just getting started

Illustration: Axios Visuals

You think the insane flow of politics in your newsfeed, on your TV and lighting up your iPhone will slow when the Trump Show ends?

Think again: Media companies are doubling down on even more politics, to generate even higher ratings and more clicks, as audiences seems to crave all politics, all the time. This is your life on politics.

Why it matters: It's unlikely news outlets will cut back — meaning that the barrage of political content being created and absorbed during the Trump presidency will likely outlive this administration.

By the numbers:

  • Politics is the #1 most read category for thousands of member websites within the database of leading traffic analytics company over the past 90 days. It's at 15% of total page views across’s network, up from 9% about 3 months ago. 
  • Cable news networks have seen record ratings, even higher in select cases than their broadcast counterparts during major events.
  • Fox News scored its highest Saturday primetime viewership since the 2003 Iraq War during Saturday's Kavanaugh confirmation.
  • MSNBC has also surged: "MSNBC was for a long time a middle-ranked cable network. It was in the top 25-30 in terms of Nielsen ratings for total audience. Now in recent months and years — ever since the advent of Trump — it's now become the top two or three basic cable network in terms of total audience," TV Newser editor A.J. Katz tells Axios.

Between the lines: The president's ability to attach himself to so many broad topics online, (mostly by tweeting so much), has pushed many apolitical topics, from sports and finance, to become political.

  • National newspapers and major networks are already staffing up for 2020 with some of their biggest field teams yet.

Even children's books have fallen to the political drama in the Trump era.

  • Stephen Colbert's children’s book that he made out of Trump’s post-Hurricane Florence comments has been sitting in the top ten on Amazon since it was announced. It’s currently #1.
  • John Oliver's book about Mike Pence's rabbit, "A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo," has had consistent sales since release, and is still in the top 50 children's books ranking on Amazon.

The bottom line: We are living in an era of unprecedented political drama. And data shows that Americans are craving more of it. 

4. Google's data debacle

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Google permanently shut down the consumer version of Google+ yesterday after The Wall Street Journal reported that Google exposed the data of roughly 500,000 Google+ users this past spring, but didn't disclose the issue.

Why it matters: Google is taking heat for not going public with the problem immediately. But this incident may be the last time a major tech company can get away with hiding something like this for months, due to sweeping privacy laws that the EU began enforcing in May. (Facebook has already been hit.)

Between the lines: There's so much attention being paid to how these tech giants will continue to protect user data as they add more data-based products that it's beginning to color the reception of their business launches.

The bottom line: Big Tech fears that rushed regulation could stifle innovation and hurt their businesses. From this perspective, they need to be transparent about how their businesses work, so that regulators understand the nuances that come with over-correcting problems.

  • But the uncertainty around how transparent they should be around complicated issues, like security breaches that don't always have tangible user effects, is proving to be just as difficult.

Go deeper: More details on the regulatory mess

5. Facebook's social video dominance

Facebook will capture nearly one-quarter (24.5%) of all video ad spending in the U.S. this year at $6.81 billion, according to a new eMarketer forecast, which includes Instagram.

Why it matters: According to the forecast, Facebook controls nearly 87% of US social network video ad spending. "We expect that dominance to continue over the forecast period, with double-digit growth through 2020," says eMarketer.

6. Exclusive: "The Hustle" hits 1 million email subscribers

"The Hustle," a daily business newsletter designed for entrepreneurs, has 1 million subscribers. The company says it has an open rate just shy of 50%, which is unusual and much higher than industry standards of roughly 20%.

  • The Hustle is profitable, with revenues in the 7-figures. Brands like GE, Microsoft, American Express, and WeWork have all sponsored the email. 
  • Various email sponsorship packages range from $10 - $40 cost per thousand sends.
  • It's currently testing a subscription service for entrepreneurs.
  • The company is backed by independent investors, including Dave Nemetz (Bleacher Report/Inverse) and Tim Ferriss (entrepreneur and author). 

7. New Fox gets Hope

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks will join New Fox as the company's EVP and chief communications officer.

  • New Fox is the news and sports-focused broadcast company that is being created with what's left of 21st Century Fox it sells its entertainment assets to Disney next year.

Staff swap: Earlier this year, former Fox News chief Bill Shine, who was ousted for his handling of sexual misconduct scandals, was named White House Communication Director, following Hick's departure.

Why it matters: Both moves show the close relationship between the Murdochs and the Trump White House.

Between the lines: Hicks, while a very savvy 29-year-old White House vet, is not very experienced in the complex world of global broadcasting. But she’s an important asset to New Fox, which will inevitably face political and regulatory battles in its efforts to expand its new network.

FWIW: Disney also announced its leadership team for its newly-combined network with Fox. Many of its leadership executives are coming over from Fox.

8. Scoop: Dotdash's 8-figure content overhaul

Dotdash, the rebranded version of — a website that was sold to IAC from The New York Times in 2012 — has spent $45 million to overhaul the decades-old content on its sites, sources tell Axios. It expects to bring in over $100 million in revenue in 2018 and to be profitable this year.

Why it matters:, like many early internet giants, failed to innovate for mobile and hit a traffic and revenue plateau.

So Dotdash is dropping lots of cash to reimagine its old content for ways it could work within in its six vertical brands: Verywell, The Balance, Lifewire, Investopedia, The Spruce and TripSavvy.

  • Sources say Dotdash has independently funded $45 million on content updates (fixing articles with updated information, original photography, video, etc.) since 2016. About $20 million is being spent this year alone.
  • Included in that overhaul is a cleaning of Dotdash’s massive archives. Sources say the company went from having roughly 1.4 million pieces of content to fewer than 300,000 across its six brands.

The bigger picture: Dotdash, like National Geographic and The New York Times, has the benefit of an enormous amount of intellectual property, but it needed to figure out what to do with it in order to make it have value today.

  • Dotdash has seen a 40% revenue growth over the past year, after a 30% increase in spend to overhaul content this year versus 2017, per sources familiar with the figures.
  • National Geographic, a 120-year-old brand, was one of the top publishers across a number of social media platforms as of 2017.
  • The New York Times has taken thousands of decades-old print and web-based recipes to develop a standalone subscription Cooking app, which brings in roughly 1/6 of Times' new subscriptions each quarter since it launched.

9. 1 fun thing: New York Mag launches Intelligencer

New York Magazine is launching its new standalone thought leadership vertical called Intelligencer this Wednesday. It will live in a daily-updated, ephemeral feature on the NYMag homepage.

  • The vertical is built from two previous verticals (Daily Intelligencer and Select All) and will encompass politics, business, technology, media and innovation.
  • New regular contributors will include: Jill Abramson, Michelle Celarier, Adrian Chen, Noah Kulwin, Bethany McLean, Collier Meyerson, Corey Robin, and Yves Smith.
  • It's hoping to lure thought leader and corporate social responsibility advertisers. (Scott Rudin Productions is the launch sponsor.)
  • It will launch with a new, limited-run podcast hosted by Max Read and David Wallace-Wells called 2038, that will explore what life will look like twenty years from now.