Year in Review: From Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover to Chris Licht’s CNN shake-up, the year has been marked with chaotic takeovers and mass layoffs
Read on for our picks of 11 media stories that shook the landscape in 2022.
Elon Musk’s Twitter reign
Though Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter was highly anticipated since the deal was initially announced in April 2022, no one could have predicted the chaos that ensued once the new Twitter boss took over when the deal closed Oct. 28, when Musk set the tone for his reign of the social media platform by immediately firing key executives, including CEO Parag Agrawal and policy director Vijaya Gadde.
As the right-leaning community exclaimed their excitement for Musk’s takeover, mainstream users and advertisers grew concerned for the changes in content moderation on the app — concerns that escalated when Musk spread a conspiracy theory about the violent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband. Next came the mass layoffs which cut the entirety of the platform’s Human Rights department and the Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability team, among others, leading a mass exodus of users to try out other Twitter-like social media options, namely Mastodon and Post.
As Musk continues to shake up Twitter’s policies — including flip-flopping between verification policies, halting the app’s COVID-19 misinformation policy and banning links to rival social media sites — even media experts aren’t sure what to expect next. After offering to step down as head of Twitter pending the results of a user poll — in which stepping down won — Twitter’s future continues to hang in the balance of Musk’s latest desire.
The rise of conservative social media
As mainstream social media platforms remained strict on their content moderation and misinformation — the aftermath of Musk’s Twitter takeover not included — 2022 saw a rise in conservative social media as right-wing users congregated on Trump’s Truth Social, Peter Thiel-backed Rumble and Parler, which Ye had agreed to acquire before backing out of the deal.
While Truth Social, Parler and Gab filled the niche of a Twitter-like platform before right-wing users returned to Twitter following Musk’s takeover, Rumble provided a conservative counterpart to YouTube, creating a home base for conservative creators like Steve Bannon and Russell Brand — who was given a “one lifetime warning” by YouTube for posting misinformation about COVID-19. Additionally, conservative users remained strong on their social media communities as many flocked to Parler when the rapper formerly known as Kanye West decided to buy the platform and Trump continued to use Truth Social even after Musk reinstated Trump’s Twitter account following his suspension after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
CNN gets a new captain — and hits an iceberg
The CNN mothership was hit with a double whammy in 2022: Warner Bros. Discovery became its new parent company, chief Jeff Zucker exited and CBS’ Chris Licht took over as CEO. Licht joined with a directive from WBD’s head honcho David Zaslav to cut expenses and downsize the cable network or as insiders said Licht likes to call it: “rightsize CNN.” The ambitious streamer CNN+, which was one of Zucker’s top initiatives, was shuttered completely within weeks of Licht’s arrival.
Amid Licht’s programming changes was moving Don Lemon from his own plum titular talk show in the evening to headliner of CNN’s rebooted morning show alongside Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. He temporarily experimented with Jake Tapper in the evening lineup through midterms, but ratings were mediocre at best. Tapper returned to afternoons and Licht turned his attention to cutting more costs through layoffs and department shrinking.
The on-air team on CNN started to feel like new crew members from below deck were being recruited for the next leg of the cruise. Tons of unrecognizable faces and noticeably younger correspondents hitting the CNN airwaves. Among the exits at the network were “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, John Harwood, Alison Kosik, Martin Savidge, Alex Field, Mary Ann Fox and Chris Cillizza.
As cuts and tweaks to the day-to-day production were mandated by Licht, he still has yet to communicate what exactly is the future of CNN and how it plans to sustain itself in the ever-changing media landscape. Stay tuned.
Media criticism falters
After Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” became caught in the crossfire of CNN CEO Chris Licht’s plans to shake up the network and was canceled without a replacement, media criticism in mainstream media coverage faltered as media critic Margaret Sullivan departed from The Washington Post and columnist Ben Smith exited from The New York Times. After “Reliable Sources” ended its run in August, TheWrap learned that CNN had no plans to replace it with another media-focused show in the foreseeable future, leaving a gap in media criticism with Fox News’ “MediaBuzz” — hosted by Howard Kurtz, who hosted “Reliable Sources” for 15 years before jumping to Fox News in 2013 — now serving as the only media-focused show on cable or network TV.
Though media experts agreed that media criticism won’t be “as broad a conversation” as before, some predicted the niche might be filled by more partisan watchdog groups like Media Matters on the left or Accuracy in Media on the right — as well as many individual influencers who gather followings on Twitter, TikTok and YouTube.
Rachel Maddow steps back, Alex Wagner steps up
In arguably one of the most highly lucrative TV news deals, Rachel Maddow scored a reported $10 million a year paycheck for staying on board MSNBC for one night a week, a podcast and election night coverage specials. There’s no question Maddow is worth her weight in gold as one of the most prolific, trusted broadcast journalists of our time. Yes, she wore the MSNBC primetime cable news crown in her coveted slot, but how does any CEO really quantify what she’s worth to the network and keep her to host Monday nights only. Purely from a business standpoint and in regular layman Joe and Jane terms, the salary is probably as justifiable for NBCUniversal as the six stars of the “Friends” cast scoring a $1 million dollar an episode paycheck back in its heyday.
Also, semi-problematic is how the deal undercut its new and returning star Alex Wagner who would take on the unenviable task of filling Maddow’s time slot on Tuesday through Friday nights. It feels like one of the worst talent/programming moves in recent memory. Could you imagine if Viacom’s Comedy Central had brought on Trevor Noah as the new “Daily Show” host Tuesday-Friday, but kept Jon Stewart around just for Monday nights? Disaster.
Comparisons to one’s predecessor are inevitable in television, but MSNBC assured us that Wagner will contend with them weekly –at least until Maddow’s contract is up for renewal.
Potential TikTok bans
As TikTok’s viral dances permeated just about everyone’s social media feeds, user data was allegedly being accessed by parent company, Bytedance. The Senate passed legislation to ban TikTok from U.S. government devices. The bill was designed to limit perceived information-security risks stemming from the social media app. It’s long been speculated through both reputable and conspiracy circles across the internet that all isn’t on the up-and-up regarding the China-based company’s practices as it pertains to privacy of its users. With the legislation now passed, this could open the door to more potential bans of the app.
KTLA headlines a slew of L.A. local news shake-ups
One of the cardinal rules of journalism is that those reporting and delivering the news should never become the story themselves. That mantra was unavoidable as L.A.’s local TV news biz saw a dizzying number of departures and none of those exits louder than Lynette Romero’s at KTLA after a 24-year run with the news broadcast.
The skinny: Romero was up for contract negotiations and wanted to cover weekdays instead of weekends so she could have more time with family. Parent company Nexstar and KTLA brass said no and then Romero was suddenly gone from the KTLA newsroom. She’s well-liked by colleagues so it started to raise red flags. It turned out Romero accepted a gig with KTLA rival NBC-4 so she wasn’t granted the courtesy by Nexstar and KTLA to say a proper goodbye on-air or social media to longtime viewers of KTLA. This move infuriated her former KTLA weekend co-host Mark Mester, prompting him to go rogue on-air and apologize on behalf of KTLA and for Sam Rubin’s lame-o scripted goodbye. Mester was subsequently suspended then fired. Insiders tell TheWrap he has lawyered up, but no updates so far.
Romero’s KTLA colleagues Courtney Friel, Dayna Devon, Liberty Chan also exited their full-time posts with the network. KNBC announced the voluntary exits of veterans Chuck Henry, Vikki Vargas, Beverly White, Kim Baldanado and Angie Crouch.
Michaela Pierera announced she was exiting her lead morning anchor post at Fox11 after the news director who brought her over left for a new gig, and KABC lost the popular Brandy Hitt from their weekday morning show broadcast.
Once upon a time, two Smiths (not-related) from two prestigious media outlets teamed up to co-found their own company. Ben Smith exited New York Times as its media reporter after his run as BuzzFeed editor in chief and Justin Smith left his CEO post at Bloomberg — and so Semafor was born. The two joined forces to launch what they describe as a global news organization intended to compete with the top dogs in news by breaking scoops. They announced the launch of Semafor before the economic downturn in the industry and it’s still unclear exactly how much financial investment backing they have raised. We do know that strategically they want to serve countries beyond the U.S. with a localized approach that Smith said is “definitely Netflix rather than Disney.” Jury is still out on Semafor.
The Hollywood newsletter battle begins: The Ankler, Puck
The Hollywood Trade Wars effectively ended when Jay Penske acquired The Hollywood Reporter, making it a sibling publication to former rivals Variety and Deadline Hollywood. The move left yours truly, TheWrap, as the only independently owned Hollywood business publication out here in the L.A. market.
The once obsessive trade world was no longer fighting to claim victory on whose duplicate “breaking news alert” arrived at 8:03 a.m. vs. 8:04 a.m. The late Nikki Finke was no longer here to declare war on well — everyone. So just when media observers were growing sleepy, some spiciness hit the feed in the form of a Janice Min vs. Jay Penske beef over veteran reporter Tatiana Siegel’s employment status. Meanwhile, Min’s former No. 2 at the Hollywood Reporter, Matt Belloni, launched a juicy industry newsletter that brought back the insider-y dish and analysis that only Min’s new partner at The Ankler, Richard Rushfield, was delivering.
Yes, that’s correct. Min teamed up as co-CEO and editor in chief of Rushfield’s Ankler newsletter with the plan to expand the newsletter biz and grow the subscriber base. Belloni co-founded Puck which covers Hollywood, politics and media. The two upstarts are producing the kind of news that Hollywood trades deliver, but in a direct-to-inbox subscription play. And so the rise of the industry email race gets a shot in the arm.
New York Times strike
After nearly two years without a new contract, unionized New York Times staff members staged a 24-hour-long strike beginning Dec. 8 after the paper’s management ceased participating in negotiations, marking the first work stoppage involving New York Times employees since the 1970s — though staffers staged a lunchtime walk out in 2017 in response to possible layoffs.
As 1,100 guild members picketed outside of the publication’s Manhattan headquarters during the strike, staffers called to improve the future of journalism as equitable pay would enable employees from any background to work at Times without having to take on a second job to cover living expenses.
Compensation remains a crucial part of the guild’s negotiations, as the union proposed a 10% raise after the contract is ratified, 5.5% raises in 2023 and 2024, and an 8.5% retroactive bonus. Instead, the publications offered union members a 5.5% raise upon ratification, 3% raises in 2023 and 2024, and a 4% retroactive bonus to compensate for a lack of raises since the contract expired.
The Mass Exodus: Layoffs rocked media like a hurricane
A layoff bloodbath hit multiple major media outlets as economic forecast turned murky. It brought just the beginning of big trouble for the journalism industry.
CNN and Gannett laid off hundreds of employees across their news operations, while BuzzFeed slashed 12% of its workforce and the Washington Post let go of 10 staffers from its print Sunday magazine. Those cuts were followed by Morning Brew laying off 14% of its staff and Vice Media trimming 2% of its digital news and publishing staff last month. In addition, the tech news website Protocol shut down, eliminating 60 jobs, while video news startup The Recount also planned to suspend operations.
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