Surprising as it sounds, the top freeagent in the City of Los Angeles is a 69-year old deli waitress according to the LA Times. As the favored watering hole of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, Nat ‘n Al’s deli, closes under pressure from the pandemic, top celebrities, city officials and other LA moguls are rushing to the aid of the 41-year veteran waitress, Gloria Leon. With a list of regulars any networking agent would die for — including Lew Wasserman, Bruce Willis, Jodie Foster, Steve Tisch, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Larry King among others — Leon’s hospitality and kindness quickly gained legendary status within the City of Angels. According to a member of the LA police commission, “There is no politician, there is no City Council member, there is no billionaire, who is more influential in Beverly Hills than Gloria,” and William Morris Endeavor partner Richard Weitz described Gloria as perhaps “the most well-connected non-entertainment person in all of L.A.” Larry King offered Leon high praise, saying, “She is one of the great, great restaurant workers anywhere. I can’t think of anyone in her league.”
Greta Van Susteren steps up her game yet again, joining InvestigateTV’s Lee Zurik to launch Gray Television, Inc.’s new daily show, “Full Court Press Now,” to begin Monday, April 6th, after the late local news. Deadline reported the new show here.
Greta Van Susteren is Gray Television’s Chief National Political Analyst and the Host of their Sunday political show, “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren,” where she pushes top political figures for the best and latest in news. Now, teaming up with Lee Zurik, New Orleans’ most honored investigative reporter, Greta will be able to leverage local, real-time reporting from Gray Television’s nearly 100 newsrooms to fill gaps in COVID-19 coverage across the country. According to Gray Television’s release, “The show will keep close watch on what public officials, private companies, and health providers are doing to support Americans in these unprecedented times.” The statement went on to say the show would “feature heroes battling the pandemic and the brave Americans fighting to survive.”
Viewers can rest assured that this power duo will provide real time information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee Zurik is the anchor of the News Orleans TV Station, WVUE, and runs InvestigateTV, the investigative unit of Gray Television. In March, Lee and his team at InvestigateTV launched a comprehensive COVID-19 County-by-County Tracker in order to start gathering much needed data on the local distribution of the virus. With their interactive map, which is updated multiple times each day, users can track the latest COVID-19 data in real time organized by county.
Meanwhile, Greta’s show, “Full Court Press” is a weekly syndicated Sunday show that premiered in September 2019 and now plays in over 80% of the country. For the past month, Greta has been chasing down Coronavirus Task Force Members, health officials, and prominent politicians to give her audience the best in coronavirus coverage. The new daily show will build on Greta’s existing weekend show. Channel listings and showtimes can be found here.
One America Nation Network (OANN) has been removed from the seat rotation in the White House briefing room after OANN correspondent Chanel Rion attended two coronavirus task force briefings — on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week — despite not having her name on the seating chart. The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that a White House Correspondents’ Association member had asked her to leave, but Rion refused and told them she was there “as a guest of Stephanie Grisham,” the White House Press Secretary. The White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents White House journalists, sent a letter informing their members of the transgression before Wednesday’s briefing concluded. “We are writing to inform you that the WHCA Board has voted this evening to remove a news outlet from the rotation for a seat in the briefing room,” it said. “We did this because a reporter for this outlet twice attended press briefings in contravention of this policy. We do not take this action lightly. This is a matter of public safety.”
OANN and Rion have gained a favorable reputation with President Trump over the course of his presidency. Chanel Rion has Facebook pictures of herself socializing with the Trumps and has proudly “been aboard the Trump Train from its first week,” according to an article in The Washington Post. Rion often asks questions that imply fringe conspiracies and has worked to reinforce White House narratives that defend Trump’s presidency. During Trump’s impeachment proceedings, Rion was in Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, shooting a “multipart series promoting unfounded conspiracy theories aimed at defending Trump against the allegations at the center of his impeachment,” as reported by Politico. Later, when Trump was challenged about the racial rhetoric around the term “Chinese virus,” Rion asked Trump whether “Chinese food” was also racist terminology. According to The Washington Post, when Trump picked Rion for a question in Monday’s briefing, she compared coronavirus deaths to abortion deaths and asked if Trump agreed “with states who place coronavirus victims above elective abortions?” Once, after calling on Rion at a briefing, Trump reportedly said, “OANN. Very good. They treat me very nicely.”
Jonathan Karl, White House Correspondents’ Association President and ABC News’s White House reporter, says he notified Stephanie Grisham and the White House press office on Tuesday that OANN was in “a clear violation” of the guidelines put in place for coronavirus safety, according to The Washington Post. “The rules are clear. If you don’t have a seat in the briefing room on your given day, you cannot be there. The rules are established to protect the health of the White House press corps. We’re abiding by the [Centers for Disease Control’s] guidelines,” said Jonathan Karl. OANN founder and CEO Charles Herring sent an email arguing to the contrary, saying that Rion’s presence “was appropriate” because she had been invited although he did not specify who invited her or why.
On Tuesday, Jonathan Karl announced that the White House correspondent who was suspected of contracting the coronavirus tested negative, saying, “I have just been advised that our colleague who we learned last week had a suspected case of COVID-19 has finally received test results. They were negative.” The coronavirus scare prompted stricter guidelines in the James S. Brady briefing room, lessening the number of reporters from 25 to 14. “We understand these restrictions are deeply disruptive to our members and their ability to do their jobs,” the White House Correspondents’ Association said. “But we are forced to take these steps to do our part to ensure that there is a healthy pool available to cover the president and inform the public during this critical time.”
Jason Kilar, founding CEO of Hulu, is tapped by AT&T Inc. to be the next CEO of WarnerMedia Group. The WarnerMedia Group is made up of some of your favorite channels including CNN, HBO, Warner Bros movie studio, and the soon-to-be launched streaming platform, HBO Max. HBO is home to many acclaimed TV shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, VEEP, Silicon Valley, Big Little Lies and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Jason Kilar will report to John Stankey, the president and COO of AT&T who had previously held Kilar’s new position. According to Stankey, AT&T is interested in Kilar’s background in streaming to help their new platform take off. When asked about the decision, Stankey says, “His experience in media and entertainment, direct-to-consumer video streaming and advertising is the perfect fit for WarnerMedia, and I am excited to have him lead the next chapter of WarnerMedia’s storied success.”
This has been one of a number of leadership changes at AT&T. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says he will stay with the company through 2020, but won’t look any further than that, and Stephenson acknowledges that Stankey is likely next in line to run the company. Before Jason Kilar was announced as CEO of WarnerMedia, there had been some consideration of Jeff Zucker, CNN president who runs all sports and news at WarnerMedia, for the spot.
Kilar worked a number of different roles at Amazon, including senior vice president of worldwide application software, before he founded Hulu in 2007. He continued to run Hulu through 2013, during which his innovative new ideas about consumer experience created conflict between Fox, NBCUniversal and the Walt Disney Co. – Hulu’s owners at the time. After leaving, he co founded another streaming company, Vessel, that was sold to Verizon in 2016. Kilar is a Pittsburgh Native and a Harvard Business School Alumnus.
Journalism leaders are struggling to catch their breath after what may have been the worst month in the history of local journalism. Declining ad revenue has been a problem in the industry ever since the Great Recession pulled around 70 percent of American newspaper’s ad dollars down the drain, but many of the larger national news organizations — such as The Atlantic, Business Insider, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal — managed to dodge the worst of the impact with their large reader bases. The local news industry, on the other hand, remained precariously dependent on local businesses for most of their ad revenue. That is until coronavirus shutdowns across the country forced these local businesses to save their dollars and distance their images from the pandemic.
As news industry analyst and Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get author, Ken Doctor writes, “This event isn’t just a black swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s parlance for an unexpected happening that forever alters the course of history. For dailies — in the U.S., in Canada, in the U.K., and really globally — it’s a flock of black swans.” Among this ‘flock of black swans,’ we have an ad revenue shortage, newspaper delivery shutdowns, event closings and falling paywalls to accommodate coronavirus news seekers, all threatening the future of our news.
Even while digital subscriptions are “way up,” at better known sources, according to Ken Doctor, “with new weekly signups up 2× to 5× over pre-virus times,” much of the local industry is still seeing layoffs, decreased publications and changing subscription models as companies try to survive the ad floor giving out. But the outlook is grim. “I’ve spoken with more than a dozen well-placed executives in the industry,” Doctor says, “and the consensus is that, in April, daily publishers will lose between 30 and 50 percent of their total ad revenue. Things are unlikely to improve until we’re past mass sequestration, whenever that is.”
Several prominent voices have begun to speak up for local journalism. Governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, whose state has recently seen a number of changes in their local news organizations, posted a tweet Sunday asking the public to consider subscribing to local newspapers. Monday, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would “dole out $25 million in grants to local news outlets and spend $75 million in a marketing drive aimed at news organizations internationally in response to the coronavirus-prompted economic downturn, which has caused advertising to plummet and has threatened media industry revenues,” as reported by New York Times. And last week, Twitter announced that they would be donating $1 million dollars evenly distributed between the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Women’s Media Foundation.
A few news organizations have pointed towards an even more wide reaching solution. The president and co-CEO of Free Press and Free Press Action, Craig Aaron, wrote a Columbia Journalism Review article detailing a $5 billion dollar government stimulus plan for the news industry. He recommended using the money to double the funds for public media, invest in support for daily and weekly newsrooms, and create a $2 billion “First Amendment Fund” for new innovations in news media. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan also promoted the stimulus plan.
New York Times media columnist Ben Smith argued that newspaper chains are not worth saving and that the industry would be better off pivoting towards new online platforms. “Without careful restrictions, a huge share of that government money will go to doomed newspaper chains for whom a major goal…” Ben Smith reports, “…is paying a dividend to shareholders unwise enough to invest in his doomed business.” While the details of a relief package for local journalism still need to be hammered out, the fact that help is needed is widely understood. David Chavern, the president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, sent a letter to President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informing them of the danger of a recession in the ad market. “While that is bad in every circumstance, in the current environment it could prove fatal — both to publishers and the public,” it read. “As we move into a continuing phase of this crisis, we will be engaging with elected representatives in a discussion of options for actions the federal government could take to help sustain our local news ecosystem”
Living in the midst of what is shaping up to be one of the biggest news stories of the century, it’s surprising to hear that local journalism is in trouble. Local news outlets comprise an absolutely essential function in reporting important information to the general public during this global pandemic. Many consumers are using our digital products, which can often be created and accessed remotely. As reported on Wall Street Journal, market advertising analyst, Gordon Borrell, estimates that local advertising will drop by 25% this year, as local businesses close their doors and save their dollars. Nieman Lab put together a list of over 30 local, alt-weekly publications that have had to ask for donations, start seeking subscriptions, suspend their publications, or even lay off workers just to make ends meet as their revenues dry up.
In early March, the Director and Founder of the Harvard-based journalism innovation promoter Nieman Lab, Joshua Benton, was quick to note that market turmoil would make it much harder for news companies to find businesses that are interested in advertising. At the beginning of March, The New York Times Company had already warned investors that “uncertainty and anxiety about the virus” had decreased their advertising revenue expectations. But New York Times and other high-end national news companies have large membership bases to help them coast.
Advertising disruption hits local news far more directly. Most local news companies depend on the local business market for ad revenue, much of which has been shut down to increase social distance. And, on top of that, local news is still heavily reliant on paper products. “Despite industry-wide declines in print circulation, many newspapers still rely on dead-tree products for the bulk of their revenue,” Jon Allsop reminds us in his Columbia Journalism Review paper. “What happens when newspaper carriers become virus carriers, and get taken off their routes?” What happens is not good.
“Due to the hellscape of unforeseen economic events brought on by the coronavirus, The Stranger temporarily laid off 18 employees today,” said Editor Christopher Frizzelle of the Seattle based bi-weekly publication on Tuesday. “Additionally, The Stranger is suspending production of our print issue. It is our hope that after weathering this storm, we will be able to bring back the print edition and all the staffers whose work goes into creating it…”
Even more concerning for the news industry is event cancellations. This Tuesday, O’Reilly Media, a tech innovation online networking education company that hosted high-profile events like OSCON, announced that they would be cancelling all in-person events and closing down their events business entirely. While the coronavirus served as the impetus for the decision, O’Reilly president Laura Baldwin showed skepticism for the future of the events business altogether. “With large technology vendors moving their events completely on-line, we believe the stage is set for a new normal moving forward when it comes to in-person events.” Joshua Benton thinks this is a dangerous omen for the other media businesses that rely on in-person events for much of their revenue. “Reading Baldwin’s note and O’Reilly’s decision made me think maybe this really is closer to a stop than a pause,” he writes.
Meanwhile, the digital media platform Digiday recently switched to a membership model for their website. The Editor-in-chief, Brian Morrissey, maintains that the decision was not made in response to coronavirus, but as a way of “adapting to the changed needs of our audience and our own evolution as a company.” Yet, Morrissey admits in Digiday’s announcement for their new membership model that “We have needed to postpone several events, and this hits an independent media company particularly hard.”
Visits to high-end national news sites including The Atlantic, Business Insider, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Wired have nearly doubled as consumers search for the best and newest coronavirus information. Yet, even most news companies are not expecting big gains this year. According to New York Times, Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, suspects that their magazine will “take a big hit” despite the surge in site visits. Fortunately, there is still room for many of these larger platforms to evolve and keep up with the changes that lie ahead. The local news industry may not be so lucky.
If you are watching President Trump’s coronavirus press briefings then you already know that the reporters are social distancing, but it may be too late for one reporter. The White House Correspondents Association’s President Jonathan Karl sent a letter to inform members that the reporter with the “suspected case of COVID-19” was at the White House on March 9, 11, 16 and 18. The White House Correspondents Association asked all journalists who attended press events at the White House during any of those four days “to review public health guidance, consult their medical professionals and take the appropriate next steps.”
President Trump and Vice President Pence attended press briefings at the James S. Brady briefing room on three of the days that the reporter was present. White House officials say that the president and the vice president both already tested negative for the coronavirus.
The White House Correspondents Association also announced that they would be revising the temporary room seating chart that they put in place March 15th for the James S. Brady briefing room. The first version of the temporary seating chart reduced the capacity from 49 reporters to 25. This newest change will further reduce that capacity down to just 14 reporters.
The White House Correspondents Association contacted the unnamed reporter’s news organization and the Office of the President’s Physician to ask that “all members who can stay home or work remotely please do so.” The White House Correspondents Association went on to ask reporters to practice caution. “Please do not come to the White House if you do not have a workspace or an assigned seat on that day. And please DO NOT come into the White House if you are feeling at all ill.”
President Trump has expressed concern about the number of reporters in the press room, even after the number of reporters had been reduced to 25. Just last Thursday, Trump said to the members of the press that, “Really, we should probably get rid of about 75, 80 percent of you. I’ll have just two or three of you that I like in this room. I think that’s a great way of doing it.”
The White House Correspondents Association reminds us in their letter that, “As we have said since this crisis began, our priority is to ensure that we can maintain a healthy pool to provide coverage of the president.”
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) announced Saturday that the 2020 White House Correspondents’ Dinner will be postponed to a later date. The annual dinner, originally scheduled for Saturday, April 25th, is among the latest major DC events to reschedule amid the coronavirus pandemic.
WHCA President and ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl said he had been monitoring the situation since early March. He told reporters last Thursday that the WHCA was “exploring alternative dates” for the high-profile annual dinner. The WHCA tweeted on Sunday that they are “unable to go ahead with its 2020 dinner on April 25.” The WHCA has yet to announce on a new date for the dinner.
The WHC Dinner joins a number of other noteworthy cancellations in the DC area. All Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo have been closed since March 14th, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival has cancelled or postponed all of its major events this year.
In early March, the Gridiron Club announced the cancellation of their annual dinner for only the third time in its 135-year history and the first-ever cancellation for public health reasons. The Gridiron Club was also considering the optics of hosting a light-hearted gathering of media elites during a global pandemic when making their decision. “We’ve always taken the view that it’s appropriate to have political humor even when times are dark,” said Gridiron President Craig Gilbert. “The difference with coronavirus is the health issue.”
The WHC Dinner announced comedian headliners Kenan Thompson from SNL and Hasan Minhaj from the hit Netflix show, “Patriot Act,” signaling a return to the comedic tradition of past dinners. We hope that the WHCA will be able to uphold that tradition at a later date this summer. Even with the rescheduled date, it is unlikely President Trump will attend, having missed the last three dinners during his presidency.