Jul 13, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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1 big thing: NYT's contentious summer of labor battles

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The New York Times is facing several critical labor battles, all coming to a head this summer.

Why it matters: The Times serves as a bellwether for other media unions trying to negotiate complicated matters like compensation, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and whether journalists own their intellectual property.

Driving the news: Times bargaining committee representatives will meet with Times management Wednesday to negotiate of a new contract between The NewsGuild of New York, which represents hundreds of Times editorial employees, and Times management, sources tell Axios.

  • The current contract was signed in 2017 and expired March 31st.
  • "We're hoping to have a deal by the end of the year," says Bill Baker, unit chair for the union at the Times.

The thorny issues:

  1. Compensation: The Guild wants better compensation terms for employees, including a $65,000 minimum wage for all union members.
  2. Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives: The Guild wants Juneteenth — currently a "flex" holiday — to become a permanent company holiday for employees, according to a union source familiar with the matter.
  3. Intellectual property: The Guild wants compensation and control for reporters when their reporting is used for things like film projects. Such negotiations have already caused drama internally at the paper, The Daily Beast reports.

The last meeting between the two groups in late June was contentious. Sources say the tension was palpable to some of the roughly 200 Times employees sitting in the meeting as observers

  • The Times management asked if every reporter attending had explicit permission from their managers to sit in and observe the meeting.
  • They asked that every Times reporter that showed up to the meeting over Zoom turn their camera on. (This request was eventually dismissed.)

Between the lines: The Times is currently facing a number of labor battles.

  • The Times' management said in April they would not voluntarily recognize a union formed between more than 650 tech workers at the paper, but said it would support the tech workers vote to unionize via an official NLRB election.
  • It voluntarily recognized a union for Wirecutter in 2019. The Wirecutter union is also currently negotiating a contract with management, per sources.

At the same time, some reporters at The Times are simultaneously pushing back against the NewsGuild of New York for trying to raise dues to help bankroll the NewsGuild as it expands, as Vanity Fair has reported.

  • This dispute has nothing to do with Times management, but it adds to the already contentious environment around labor discussions at the company.

Go deeper.

2. Observer relaunching with new editor-in-chief

The Observer, formerly the New York Observer, plans to relaunch in the next few months with a new editor-in-chief, Axios has learned.

Details: Meg Marco, most recently a senior editor at ProPublica, has been hired to help the outlet reclaim its identity as a chronicler of powerful people and influence.

  • Marco, who has also served as an editor at Axios and the Wall Street Journal, will be responsible for hiring a team to cover issues such as business media, arts and real estate.
  • The digital-only company is looking to hire around 8 people this year, nearly doubling its current staff size of 10.

The big picture: Although sources say it's profitable, insiders concede that the outlet has struggled to have the same influence over national coverage of things like arts, entertainment and money as it did when it focused solely on New York power.

Read more.

3. Exclusive: MeWe raising cash as alt-social media wars heat up

Photo illustration by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

MeWe, a subscription-based social media platform that bills itself as a privacy-focused alternative to Facebook, is looking to raise two new rounds of cash to help fuels its growth, founder and chief evangelist Mark Weinstein tells Axios.

Driving the news: The company is in talks about a round it hopes to raise this year between $10 and $30 million, Weinstein says. He's hoping to raise even more cash, up to $75 million, the following year.

  • MeWe has raised $23 million to date from an array of high-net-worth funders.

By the numbers: The company, which Weinstein said broke even last year, saw revenues of over $3 million for the first four months of 2021, and expects to bring in $8-10 million for the full-year.

  • That's up from $1.165 million in 2020, and $137,000 in 2019.

MeWe isn't the only alternative social network that's caught the attention of investors.

  • YouTube alternative Rumble raised an undisclosed amount of money earlier this year from conservative investors that valued the video-sharing app at $500 million, per The Wall Street Journal.

Go deeper.

4. Exclusive: Insider has a new president

Insider Inc. has named Barbara Peng to President, its CEO and founder Henry Blodget tells Axios.

Why it matters: Peng most recently served as President of Insider Intelligence, the company's research arm. She will also continue to oversee Insider Intelligence, which Blodget says is a $60 million+ business.

  • Peng has been with Insider since 2015. She's been president of Insider's research arm since 2017, and was responsible for overseeing the acquisition and integration of eMarketer in 2019.
  • Blodget tells Axios that Insider and Insider Intelligence will continue to operate separately. "Where it makes sense to collaborate, we will, but we can serve our clients better with focused teams."

Go deeper.

5. Hammer coming down on Google

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

French competition regulators said Tuesday they are fining Google 500 million euros, or roughly $593 million, for failing to comply with copyright rules around negotiating payment terms for news publishers.

The big picture: It's the latest in a string of competition penalties and investigations Google has faced abroad and at home.

  • Last week, the Biden administration signed an executive order directing federal agencies to step up antitrust enforcement on big businesses, including tech, per Axios' Margaret McGill.
  • Also last week, states hit Google with new antitrust suit alleging anticompetitive conduct in its Google Play Store operations.
  • Last month, the European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation into Google for similar issues.

What to watch: The FTC has officially opened a probe into Amazon's acquisition of MGM.

6. New media company covering media

Gabriel Snyder, formerly of The New Republic and The Atlantic, is launching a new daily media newsletter that will cover the media business in New York City.

Why it matters: The media beat has gotten more competitive over the past few years as independent journalists and media companies launched dozens of new newsletters analyzing the business.

The launch product — a daily newsletter called "Off The Record," will chronicle the inside workings of media companies in New York City for a $75 annual subscription fee.

  • It will focus on topics like people moves, company culture and the politics of big and small media institutions.
  • The company will use Wordpress and MailChimp. Snyder says he is hiring a reporter to write the newsletter that he will oversee and edit.

What's next: If the model works, Snyder hopes to expand to other media hubs.

7. Movies are coming home
Expand chart
Data: PwC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Disney's latest Marvel blockbuster, "Black Widow," not only set a new pandemic-era box office record this past weekend, it also proved that same-day streaming and theater movie releases will undoubtedly live on past the pandemic.

By the numbers: The film brought in over $60 million from streaming sales, in addition to $158 million at the box office.

The big picture: The pandemic-era streaming boom has forced movie studios to experiment with shorter theatrical windows and making their movies available sooner on their own streaming services.

  • Universal said last week that beginning next year, all of its film content will become available to fans exclusively on Peacock within four months of debuting in theaters.
8. Streaming subscriber slowdown, price increases

Reports over the past week or so suggest that streamers are unlikely to report massive subscriber increases during upcoming earnings calls in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, ESPN+ is raising prices by $1, per CNBC. Price increases will not apply to the ESPN+, Disney+, Hulu package deal, which suggests Disney is trying to push subscribers towards buying the bundle.

9. Facebook's branding course for student athletes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Facebook is teaming with the digital sports news company Front Office Sports (FOS) to launch a short course to help student-athletes, college athletic departments, and sports professionals learn how to maximize their brands on Facebook and Instagram now that college athletes can legally profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL).

Details: The free, six-part online learning program, called "Athlete Marketing Essentials: NIL Certification," will help athletes "maximize their presences and earning potential on each platform in the new NIL era," per a statement.