This week we talked to Sara Fischer, Media Reporter at Axios. Their weekly Media Trends newsletter has just reached 100,000 subscribers after being among the first few newsletters launched by the publisher in 2016.

Sara tells us about her process for crafting a thoughtful, informative newsletter, whether Axios’ ‘smart brevity’ model can work for local news, and what lessons she’s taken from covering media companies that she applies to her own work.

In the news roundup the team discuss the fallout for publishers from Trump’s ban from social media, and the trends that led to this point. We also talk UK local news priorities, why Meredith’s Travel + Leisure has been acquired by a timeshare resort company, and the appointment of the new BBC chair. Peter auditions for the next Terminator movie.

See the full transcript here, or highlights below:

Launching Axios Media Trends

We did have a formula that we wanted to follow, which mimicked some of the other newsletters that we had already launched. We had launched three others before mine; a health, a tech, and a general newsletter in the morning. And so we kind of got to see what worked and what didn’t work.

We figured if we follow a similar playbook; keep the work short but not shallow, leverage smart data visualisations, and really focus on the intersection of business technology and politics to talk about media, we thought it would be successful.

Evolving the newsletter

When I first started publishing [Axios Media Trends], we were around 2,000 words. And now we’re really aiming to be closer to 1,500 words a week. It doesn’t mean I publish less items, it means I publish shorter excerpts of stories that are published to the website and link out.

What’s helpful is that it provides people who are interested in a particular item or subject to link out and go deeper. But it also gives them enough exposure to it so that they can learn about it, even if it wasn’t something that they thought they really cared about.

So that’s always been the strategy, is give people enough content to give them exposure to things that we think should be on their radar, but give them the option to go deeper or not go deeper, depending on their interest.

Writing for a wide media audience

When I was the business side and I sold advertising, I felt as though a lot of the coverage did not cater to me, which is your average everyday aspirational employee in media and advertising. It was either too catered to the power players…or it was too niche. I was looking for something that was authoritative, not over my head, not to insider-y, but at the same time, not too technical.

So I’m thinking about anyone that does media for their job, that is time constrained, but doesn’t want to be spoken down to, doesn’t want to be spoken over, just wants to be spoken very plainly to in order for them to do their job better.

I saw that as a whitespace in the industry, I didn’t see many newsletters that were catered to that type of aspirational professional at any level. And I’m very particular about that.

Lessons from covering media companies

Culture matters a lot. And I’m seeing a lot of media companies that hit bumps in the road, it’s because they didn’t have a culture or a set of processes or priorities that helps to guide them through tough decisions. And that’s hugely, hugely important.

We never had a focus on diversity as an industry and news media. And part of that is because the industry started out largely focused around a few newspapers and magazines, particularly in the northeast, where the people who participated in those ventures were predominantly white. They came from northeastern states which tended to be liberal. And that lack of diversity continues to be a huge problem, not only navigating coverage and selecting the right stories and elevating the right sources and voices, but also just in how to function as an industry in a country that’s so diverse.

It got to a point – we’re still at this point – where news media, as a whole is so much less diverse in the workforce of the United States. I mean, how can you possibly be an innovative company or industry when that’s your reality?

Key stories:

News in brief:

  • News publishers expect advertisers to return following Trump’s departure. They hope a more ‘brand safe’ president will relieve some of the pressure on keyword blocklists and make advertising on news as a category less controversial.
  • On New Year’s Eve, National World bought JPI Media for £10.2m (a fraction of what it was formerly worth). National World Plc boss David Montgomery has outlined a plan to ‘decentralise’ JPI Media and shun ‘irrelevant or clickbait stories’. He’s criticised the ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ of rival local news groups and is launching a drive to publish bespoke localised content that appeals to local advertisers.
  • In other deals that slipped in over the break, Amazon is acquiring podcasting network Wondery for $300 million. It’s the first major acquisition from the tech giant since announcing a podcast push last year.
  • Good news for Reach as it has announced it will outperform its 2020 expectations after revenues from its digital division surged 25% in Q4. However, the bar was set pretty low following the pandemic’s effect on the business.
  • The Reuters Institute’s predictions for journalism media and tech trends 2021 are now out. The key takeaway is that this year is likely to be one of “economic reshaping, with publishers leaning into subscription and e-commerce.”
  • Richard Sharp – former Goldman banker and Tory donor – has been announced as the new BBC chair, succeeding Sir David Clementi.
  • Meredith’s Travel + Leisure has been acquired by a timeshare resort company called Wyndham Destinations for $100 million. Meredith will continue to operate the title under a licensing deal, while Wyndham uses it to enhance its travel club relationships.
  • Wikipedia is 20, and its reputation has never been higher. This from The Economist explores the evolution of the 13th most popular site on the internet.

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