Aug 4, 2020

Axios Media Trends

By Sara Fischer
Sara Fischer

Today's Media Trends is 1,909 words, a 7-minute read. Sign up here.

  • 📺 We’re back: Jonathan Swan's brilliant “Axios on HBO” interview with President Trump is available to watch in full — for free.

🖥️ Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. ET, Axios' Mike Allen and Niala Boodhoo host a virtual event exploring small business in time of the virus. Register here.

1 big thing: Women-focused non-profit newsrooms surge forward in 2020

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Women are pushing back against the gender imbalance in media by launching their own news nonprofits and focusing on topics many traditional news companies have long ignored.

Exclusive: Prism, a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color)-led nonprofit news outlet, is launching this week to focus on coverage of electoral justice, gender justice, workers’ rights, criminal justice, racial justice and immigration, executives tell Axios.

  • Prism soft-launched in 2019 with the backing of a number of foundations. Its hard launch this week comes on the heels of the rounding out a remote staff just before the pandemic started in March. The company now has 10 full-time employees, half in editorial, all of whom are women of color.
  • Ashton Lattimore, editor-in-chief at Prism and former editor of the Harvard Law Review, says that the company is uniquely positioned to intervene in this moment. "Women, colored folks, and LGTBQ are typically left out out of media narrative, and that has real world consequences at any time," says Lattimore.

The 19th*, named in honor of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, launched this week with $8.5 million in fundraising.

  • Its goal is to elevate stories from people that have long been underserved by the American media, from conservative women in flyover territory to women of color, says Emily Ramshaw, co-founder and CEO of The 19th*.
  • The outlet announced strategic distribution partnerships with USA Today and Noticias Univision on Monday.

The Fuller Project, a nonprofit that's been around since 2015, has raised $8.4 million since late 2016, executives tell Axios.

  • The Fuller Project focuses on global reporting of injustice to women. For years it has partnered with many mainstream news companies to distribute its reporting to mainstream audiences.
  • It has about 20 staffers globally, roughly half in the newsroom.
  • "Right now at the intersection of everything happening with race and social justice, the coronavirus and public health — women's stories are the center of those moments, whether talking about income, unemployment, or childcare," says Khushbu Shah, The Fuller Project's interim editor-in-chief.

Be smart: The gender and racial disparities in newsrooms are awful, despite many news audiences skewing female.

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2. Scoop: Bloomberg, The Athletic bundle subscriptions

Bloomberg Media will launch a bundled subscription with The Athletic beginning this month, sources tell Axios.

The big picture: Bloomberg Media sees value in partnering with niche media outlets that it thinks can compliment its coverage.

Details: The bundle comes with a discount. Those who purchase the $290 annual Bloomberg.com subscription (originally $415/year) will receive a free trial to The Athletic for 6 months, while those who opt for the $1.99 monthly subscription (originally $34.99/month) will have 3 months of free access to the sports news site.

  • The partnership also includes a video deal. The two companies are piloting an ongoing relationship where journalists from The Athletic are featured on Bloomberg Media's digital news network QuickTake to do reporting on the business, culture and technology of sports.

What's next: The subscription landscape is growing so competitive that news companies banning together to sell joint subscription packages may be the next big trend.

3. QAnon's 2020 resurgence

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The strange realities of 2020 have perfectly played to the kind of fear QAnon thrives on, driving record online interest in the conspiracy theory.

Why it matters: Its growing influence is sowing fear and confusion around some of today's most important issues, such as election integrity and the coronavirus pandemic.

Conspiracy theories tied to QAnon are growing more popular, Stef Kight and I report.

  • There was 10x more Google search interest in QAnon in mid-July than in mid-January, according to Google Trends data.
  • QAnon pages and groups on Facebook had nearly 10x more likes at the end of last month than they did last July, according to data tracked by the Atlantic Council and shared with Axios.
  • There's been a 190% increase in the daily average number of tweets with popular QAnon hashtags since March as compared to the seven months prior, according to data from GroupSense provided to Axios.

Parts of the mainstream Republican party have latched on, helping drive its conspiracy theories mainstream.

What's next: While tech giants are starting to crack down on QAnon accounts, new platforms such as Parler and TheDonald.win are giving the conspiracy theory places to spread unchecked.

  • On Parler, which has attracted conservatives, Bryce Webster-Jacobsen of cyber intelligence firm GroupSense said there are 10,000 to 15,000 new posts every day with the hashtags #QAnon or #WWG1WGA — which stands for the Q catchphrase "where we go one, we go all."

Go deeper.

Bonus: America's meme machine fuels global populist movement
Data: GroupSense; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The QAnon conspiracy is picking up steam abroad, particularly in Europe, where populist movements are on the rise, Axios Stef Kight and I write.

Why it matters: "Instead of being the target for a lot of disinformation, the U.S. has become the exporter of a lot of it,” says Zarine Kharazian, Assistant Editor at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Driving the news: The QAnon movement is gaining a foothold in countries like Italy, France, Germany and the U.K., according to a new report from NewsGuard, a company that fights misinformation.

  • "It’s like people took the QAnon theory from the U.S. and then modified it for the European context," says Kharazian.

Details: According the the NewsGuard report, many new QAnon websites, pages, groups, and accounts started to appear in European countries in late 2019 and early 2020, and quickly amassed large numbers of followers.

  • Some of these accounts are based in the U.S., suggesting they are being run by Americans hoping to export the QAnon ideology. 
  • Tweets about QAnon are exploding worldwide, according to separate data from GroupSense.

Go deeper.

4. With TikTok deal, U.S. playing by China's internet rules

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump's confrontation with TikTok suggests the U.S. is starting to view the internet like China does — as a network that countries control within their borders, Axios managing editor Scott Rosenberg writes.

Today's global internet has split into three zones:

  1. The EU's privacy-focused network.
  2. China's government-dominated network.
  3. The U.S.-led network dominated by a handful of American companies.

Why it matters: As the global internet splinters further, the U.S. and China are entering a Cold War-style battle for the hearts and minds of users and developing nations.

  • In this fight, U.S. nationalism may make a weaker case to the world than the ideal of internet freedom and open networks that the U.S. once evangelized.

Trump's threat to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok, with Microsoft in talks to buy the video-sharing app's U.S. operations, puts other foreign-owned companies on notice that the U.S. intends to favor American-owned digital businesses.

  • That's a giant break from a long-established bipartisan consensus that American interests are best served by a marketplace, online and off, managed as a level playing field.

Go deeper on the Microsoft/TikTok saga.

5. Hate-speech boycott had little effect on Facebook revenue

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The high-profile Facebook ad boycotts that began in June and ramped up in July, pressuring the social network to act more forcefully against hate speech, have so far not put much of a dent in Facebook's top or bottom lines.

Driving the news: Facebook beat Wall Street revenue expectations for the second quarter, and it said that the growth of its ad business during the first three weeks in July was roughly the same as it was last year during the same timespan.

  • Facebook says it expects to see that level of ad growth continue for the remainder of the quarter.

Yes, but: The pandemic-driven ad slowdown handed Facebook its slowest quarter ever for advertising growth (up 11%) since it went public in 2012.

Be smart: Facebook is still growing even as Google lost ad revenue last quarter because Facebook relies more on sectors that have ramped up during the pandemic, like e-commerce, while Google depends on industries, like travel and hospitality, that have largely shut down.

The big picture While the rest of the U.S. economy was falling off a cliff, Big Tech saw its business soar, Axios' Ina Fried reports.

  • Thursday morning, government economists reported a 30% drop in GDP for the second quarter — the largest decline, by far, since the numbers have been reported.
  • Thursday afternoon, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google — whose CEOs had spent Wednesday answering questions from Congress about their market dominance — reported better than expected financial results, despite the pandemic's ravages.

Go deeper: Boycott state of play

6. The media's fall during coronavirus
Data: Harris Poll COVID19 Tracker Wave 20; Chart: Axios Visuals

The public's view of almost every industry has improved since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, with the exception of the media and airlines industries, according to a new Axios/Harris corporate reputation poll.

  • Social companies like Twitter and Facebook rank in the bottom 10 of the list, and are viewed slightly less favorably now than before the pandemic.
  • Telecom companies like Comcast, AT&T and Charter Communications rank in the bottom 20.
  • Streaming giants — Netflix, followed by Hulu and Disney — ranked in the top 25 due to their offerings for consumers stuck at home.

The poll ranks the 100 most visible brands in America, based on Harris Poll research. Companies were rated by 34,026 U.S. adults, from June 24-July 6.

7. Instagram morphs into info-powerhouse

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Text, infographics and newsy illustrations are exploding on Instagram, Neal Rothschild and I report.

Why it matters: The pandemic and racial justice movement brought purpose and focus to its millions of users, supercharging the urgency to get educated and share useful information.

  • Then in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, it was primed not just for information, but activism.

Accounts that have leaned into this trend have seen growth skyrocket:

  • @soyouwanttotalkabout, which exclusively posts info-carousels on progressive topics, has seen its following grow from 125,000 in mid-June to nearly 1 million now.

Big publishers are also benefiting:

  • @ProPublica, which had already been posting text-centric information, saw 70% follower growth in the last 6 months, almost all coming since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, according to CrowdTangle data.

Between the lines: A key shift in how information on Instagram spreads came in mid-2018, when the app allowed users to share posts from the feed to their Stories, unlocking a 1-to-many share mechanism that allowed posts to get massive audiences.

  • Instagram doesn't have a traditional share button to drive virality.

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10. 1 COVID thing: Traffic to career sites is down
Data: SimilarWeb; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Traffic to career sites like Indeed.com, Careerbuilder.com, Monster.com and others is down during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new half-year traffic report from SimilarWeb.

Why it matters: The CARES Act may have made it easier for job seekers to delay employment searches, according to SimilarWeb. Record unemployment could also suggest that people are hiring less.

  • More than half of the visits to sites in the career category were made by people ages 34 and under.

Details: Overall, all sites within the career category experienced year-to-date decreases in monthly unique viewers, and the category as a whole saw a decrease of 14.6%.

  • The top five non-branded organic keywords driving traffic to the category were "jobs near me," "jobs," 'cover letter," "work from home jobs," and "interview questions."

The big picture: Across the 10 categories measured in SimilarWeb, most seem to be rising and falling as expected.

  • The news and media category is experiencing explosive growth, as consumers itch for more information about the pandemic and the economy.
  • Traffic to marketplaces, like Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and Target.com is soaring, thanks to the migration of traditional retail to e-commerce.
  • Traffic to airlines and accommodations sites is notably way down.
Sara Fischer