News & Insights

The Deadline: Media Spotlight: The Fall of Chris Licht, Tucker Carlson vs. Fox & Google’s Local News Push

By Rebecca Epps

The Deadline - Media Intelligence Newsletter.

Key Highlights

  • The Foes of Fox News – The conversative media behemoth draws new legal attention surrounding the 2020 election, and meanwhile sends a cease-and-desist letter to former primetime figure Tucker Carlson.
  • Cuts, Cuts, Cuts – Layoffs and restructurings continue to riddle news makers, with the LA Times and The New York Times’ popular sports arm among the latest hit.
  • What’s Next for CNN? – It was news that some described as an exhausted sigh of relief for CNN. But what’s next for the network in the wake of Chris Licht’s departure?

Industry News

The Fox News & Tucker Carlson Duel Heats Up

A week after debuting on Twitter and over a month after his ouster at Fox News, Tucker Carlson is finding he still hasn’t heard the last from the network. Fox News has sent Carlson a cease-and-desist letter, alleging that Carlson breached his contract by launching his Twitter show. The news of the cease-and-desist letter was first reported by Axios. In a statement, one of Carlson’s lawyers said, “Fox News continues to ignore the interests of its viewers, not to mention its shareholder obligations. Doubling down on the most catastrophic programming decision in the history of the cable news industry, Fox is now demanding that Tucker Carlson be silent until after the 2024 election.” In the statement, his lawyer added, “Tucker will not be silenced by anyone.”

Washington Post Publisher Steps Down; Jeff Bezos’ Heightened Role Takes Shape

Fred Ryan, who served as the Washington Post publisher and chief executive for nine years, is leaving the company. Ryan announced the move in a memo to staff saying he will lead the newly formed nonpartisan Center on Public Civility at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. Ryan oversaw the Post’s rapid growth in the years after its purchase by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos has been getting more involved in the inner workings of the company as of late. Still, the Post faces large obstacles, as there has been concern for months about the direction in which the paper’s digital subscriptions are going and tensions about web traffic. The New York Times, one of the Post’s top competitors, added 190,000 digital subscribers last quarter. The Post, on the other hand, has struggled to grow its subscription service in the post-Trump era.

Ex-Trump Spokesperson Out at Fox

Raj Shah, a former spokesperson for former President Donald Trump turned Fox executive, has left the company. Shah was serving as senior vice president at Fox Corp. He was one of many executives and hosts whose internal messages were made public in the Dominion defamation lawsuit. According to a separate court filing from the case, Shah led the Fox team that told the network that Fox News host Neil Cavuto’s actions represented a “brand threat” to the network after Cavuto cut away from a White House press briefing in November 2020. Cavuto told viewers at the time that he could not “in good countenance continue to show you this,” as then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made false statements about voter fraud.

NBC Nightly News Celebrates 75th Anniversary; Holt Pulled from Party for Breaking News

The longtime flagship evening newscast for NBC, “Nightly News”, celebrates a milestone. Over 100 people, including well-known names in media, rang in the 75th anniversary of the show, gathering at the Peacock Lounge at 30 Rock. It was the culmination to a big week for the network newscast after the Hollywood Reporter published a profile on “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt and the network also unveiled a new logo and on-air graphics. The celebrations were cut short however after Holt and producers had to rush back to the control room as the news of the indictment of former President Donald Trump broke during the festivities.

Google Launches Efforts to Support Local News

The tech media giant has a new grassroots endeavor: local news. Google says it is going to start doing more to support local media outlets, particularly through the Google News app. One change users will notice in the Google News mobile feed, for both Android and iPhone, is that stories from local outlets will appear more frequently. Google says it will provide more funding to local publications, as well as roll out new features to help users discover local stories from their area.

Oregon Investigates Fox Corp. Board of Directors

The attorney general for the state of Oregon announced she is investigating Fox Corp.’s board of directors for “breach of fiduciary duty,” claiming Fox News repeatedly broadcast election lies in the wake of the 2020 election. According to the attorney general’s office, the Oregon Department of Justice and the Treasury are exploring leading a suit against Fox’s management on behalf of the company’s harmed investors, which include the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Funds. In a statement, the Oregon state treasurer said, “we invest for Oregon’s public servants and we aim to hold Fox’s board of directors, including Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, accountable for their decisions.” A Fox spokesperson declined to comment.

Journalists Strike at the U.S.’s Biggest Newspaper Chain

Tensions are high after journalists at two dozen local newspapers across the U.S. walked off the job demanding an end to cost-cutting measures and a leadership change at Gannett, the nation’s biggest newspaper chain. Hundreds of journalists across eight states are involved in the strike, as Gannett has more than 50 newsrooms across the country. The strike happened following Gannett’s annual shareholder meeting, during which the company’s board was duly elected despite the NewsGuild-CWA, which represents the journalists, urging shareholders to withhold their votes from CEO and board chairman Mike Reed as an expression of no confidence in his leadership. Reed has overseen the company since its 2019 merger with GateHouse Media, a tumultuous period that led to layoffs and the shuttering of newsrooms. Gannett shares have dropped more than 60% since the deal closed.

LA Times Cuts Newsroom Staff

Layoffs continue to permeate the local news sector as the Los Angeles Times becomes the latest well-known publication to announce cuts. The newspaper said it will be eliminating 74 positions in the newsroom, representing about 13% of its total news workforce. The cuts come amid economic pressures brought on by advertising and print readership declines. The LA Times executive editor announced the layoffs in a note to the newsroom, saying the decision was “made more urgent by the economic climate and the unique challenges of our industry.”

Fox News Set to Interview Donald Trump as 2024 Election Cycle Heats Up

On June 19, Fox News will hold a “Special Report” in which host Bret Baier will interview former President Donald Trump. This will be Trump’s first interview with Baier since 2018. Trump also participated in a Fox News town hall in 2020 that was moderated by Baier and Martha MacCallum. The interview could hold added significance for Baier as Fox News’ plans to host the first GOP presidential debate on August 23 in Milwaukee. Sources say Baier would be an obvious choice to moderate the event. However, according to a New York Times report last month, Trump was resistant to having Baier question him due to Baier’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election.

The New York Times Sports Arm Announces Layoffs, New Approach to Coverage

The Athletic, the subscription-based sports website owned by The New York Times, is making layoffs. The publication announced it will be laying off nearly 20 reporters, or about 4% of its journalistic staff. As part of a restructure, leaders also said some reporters would be moved from their current sports team beats to new ones, including regional coverage or general assignment roles. The Athletic launched with a mission to cover every team from every major professional sports league across the country, with a dedicated reporter. The Athletic has been successful since it was founded in 2016, with The New York Times buying the website last year to buttress its subscription business. The publication has been successful editorially, with millions of subscribers, but travel and staffing associated with it has been expensive.

Career Moves

Host of “Meet the Press”, America’s Longest Continuously Running TV Show, Steps Down

Chuck Todd, the host and moderator for NBC’s “Meet the Press,” is stepping down. Todd announced on-air that he will be handing over hosting duties in September. NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Kristen Welker, will become the show’s new host. Todd took the helm of “Meet the Press” in 2014 after former host David Gregory stepped down. According to NBC, Todd will remain at the network in a new role as chief political analyst and will focus on long-form journalism. “Meet the Press” debuted in 1947 and is America’s longest continuously running TV show and a leading part of the Sunday morning slate of national political talk shows.

TIME Hires New Chief Operating Officer

Mark Howard has been named the new chief operating officer at TIME. The news was announced in a memo by chief executive officer Jessica Sibley. In the role, Howard will oversee operations of the publication, including print, digital, technology, consumer marketing, ecommerce, licensing, cryptomedia and finance, as TIME aims to continue its transformation from a legacy print magazine to a multichannel editorial brand. Howard joins TIME as the publisher marked its centennial earlier this year and invested heavily in efforts to diversify its revenue stream, launching “TIME studios”.

The Wall Street Journal Appoints New Deputy Editor in Chief

Charles Forelle has been named the new Deputy Editor in Chief of The Wall Street Journal. Emma Tucker, the Journal’s editor in chief, sent out a memo announcing the new appointment, saying that throughout Forelle’s more than two decades at the Journal, he has consistently demonstrated unwavering dedication, editorial acumen and a deep understanding of the Journal’s core values. Forelle joined the Journal in 2002 as an intern. Since then, he has been a reporter in Boston, Brussels and London and has served as Europe Markets Editor and Europe Finance Editor. His most recent role was serving as the Finance Editor for the Journal.

Spotlight

Chris Licht is Out: The Tumultuous Leadership at CNN and the Ongoing Struggles Riddling the Network

After only 13 months on the job, CNN cuts ties with chief executive and chairman Chris Licht, who led the network through a string of controversies. Licht took over the helm during a pivotal moment for the network as ratings had dropped in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, and WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, was preparing to merge with Discovery, creating a media powerhouse. Yet Licht never seemed to find his footing at the network and drew attention that was more focused on headlines and controversial buzz around the network rather than its journalism, most notably the 15,000 word article published in The Atlantic. As longtime CNN anchor Jake Tapper put it in a statement, “I want to talk about our journalism. I want the coverage of CNN to be our journalism.” As The Washington Post noted, the turbulence at the top of CNN comes at a time when television news networks are struggling to devise a strategy to deal with the decline of their traditional cable business as streaming services continue to chip away at cable’s ratings and revenue. Despite the turmoil, it was not all doom and gloom for the network under Licht, as CNN broke a series of major scoops on the investigation into former President Donald Trump. Yet the live broadcasted town hall with the former president was also one of the nails in the coffin for Licht, as the event, which was moderated by now primetime host Kaitlan Collins, received a slew of criticism. As David Graham of The Atlantic put it, “the real reason Licht failed was not the way he executed his job but the way he conceived it in the first place,” arguing that Licht “failed to grasp the altered landscape” of American media.

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