Media on Media

The revenge of the homepage, a dilemma for NBC News and more.

How MSNBC’s Leftward Tilt Delivers Ratings, and Complications

Tensions between NBC News in its many nationwide guises and MSNBC are at a boiling point, write Jim Rutenberg and Michael M. Grynbaum in the Times. It’s a story rife with juicy corporate conflict, starring a resolutely left-leaning cable outlet, an old-guard broadcaster intent on alienating as few people (and powerful regional affiliates in red and blue areas) as possible and a corporate parent, Comcast, famously reluctant to wade into political battles. It’s also a particularly vivid manifestation of so many issues weighing on the media today: the tug of war between objectivity and “both-sides-ism,” whether a Trump reelection’s threat to democracy demands activist journalism, and the conflicts of interest brought by ever more media business consolidation. 

The problem is also singular, with NBC alone in “juggling a broadcast news operation bound by traditional standards of impartiality and a cable channel increasingly bound by the partisan preferences of an intensely loyal viewership.” Rutenberg and Grynbaum smartly parse the issues. At the same time, they deliver an excellent condensed history of MSNBC, from its ragtag and often unserious early days through Andrew Lack’s calls for moderation during the ‘10s and current NBC News chief Cesar Conde’s mixed results aligning with an “industry-wide recalibration” to get Republicans back on major news networks that don’t rhyme with box. 

As clicks dry up for news sites, could Apple’s news platform be a lifeline? 

Publishers who once depended for survival on traffic from Facebook and the like are an afterthought to social media companies these days. Google’s search algorithms are less dependable revenue sources following tweaks to combat AI-generated filler and misinformation. But there’s some good news in the form of Apple News+, Max Tani reports in Semafor. 

The Daily Beast, for instance, is on track to make between $3 and $4 million this year from Apple News+ alone, more than its own subscription program and a significant sum for a mid-sized publisher in this era of nonstop bloodletting. Time spoke of seven-figure revenue streams from its partnership with the aggregator, which places selected pieces of content from various publishers behind Apple’s own paywall. A Time spokesperson told Tani that the scheme netted the outlet 5 million unique users last month. Conde Nast, Hearst, Penske Media and Vox expressed similar enthusiasm. 

The tide won’t turn anytime soon for news publishers, but newsletters, events and Apple News+ alliances might keep them from going under. 

The Revenge of the Homepage

Kyle Chyka also covers, in the New Yorker, how news platforms are adapting to the implosion of social media and Google searches as traffic sources. His piece focuses on the unlikely comeback of homepages as places to invest serious money in rather than use as the internet equivalent of billboards. 

Publishers are doing this by making their homepages look more like social media feeds. Think brief, constantly updated text blasts; flashy photos and video content; and increased interaction between visitors. The gambit, initially scoffed at by many, has worked out for publications like The Verge, with the number of frequent users there surging by 47% over the course of 2023. 

“Surrounded by dreck, the digital citizen is discovering that the best way to find what she used to get from social platforms is to type a URL into a browser bar and visit an individual site,” writes Chyka. Imagine that! And how it could potentially liberate news organizations from chasing fickle algorithms.