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The Year in Media

December 26, 2012

Any election year is going to bring its share of surprises, but 2012 was a change year across the board in the media world. Print journalism continued to find ways to adapt to the rise of digital and the decline of print advertising, with some of the country's biggest outlets erecting paywalls for their websites, while others abandoned the printed page altogether. Meanwhile, cable news expanded into a new realm of Hispanic audiences, taking measures to incorporate the booming population into their spheres. Morning television saw a major shift in the order of things, with ABC surging upward as NBC fell. 2012 flipped the script on everything from breaking news to how to do it and, most importantly, how to pay for it. Coming into an off-year politically, online outlets and old-world broadcasters will have a moment to take a breath and adapt.

The Big Scoop

One of the biggest and most decisive scoops of the 2012 presidential election came from liberal magazine Mother Jones. On September 17, Washington bureau chief David Corn posted a secretly-recorded video of Mitt Romney speaking freely to a group of wealthy donors in Florida. The video, which was posted to the Mother Jones website, instantly went viral and Romney's "47 percent" speech plagued him for the remainder of the campaign. Bloomberg's Josh Barro opined at the time: "Today, Mitt Romney lost the election."

Though the video certainly didn't kill Romney's candidacy on its own, it was a nail in an already well-formed coffin and it was a surprising get for a magazine that's known for ultra-liberal commentary, not for breaking news. But it was that commentary that got them the scoop. James Carter IV, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, first saw a clip of the longer video on YouTube and alerted both Corn and the Huffington Post. Both publications pushed Carter's source -- the videographer -- to turn over the full video, but ultimately the source went with Mother Jones because of his admiration for Corn's previous work.

Saving Trees

2012 was the year the sky fell on print lovers across the country. In May, the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced that it would cease printing a daily newspaper, instead moving to three-days-per-week, making the "Big Easy" the largest city in the country without a daily paper. Owner Advance publications made similar changes at other papers in Alabama, Pennsylvania and upstate New York and is rumored to be considering using the same model at many of its other papers. Then, in October, Newsweek announced that it would stop printing a physical magazine in December, after 80 years on newsstands.

While others stuck to their print products, the price of staining one's hands with ink has continued to grow; the New York Times announced this month that it will bump up its print subscription price by 5 percent next year, after raising it just last year. The new price to have the Times delivered daily outside of the New York City area: $837.20 per year.

Meanwhile, fearful publishers nationwide erected paywalls, hoping to stave off some of the costs of print. Through the end of the year, fully 48 percent of newspapers across the country had established a paywall of some kind, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the majority of Gannett's newspapers, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Forty-four percent of the remaining papers said they planned to erect one within the next 24 months, according to AAM, and following a tough year for the Washington Post -- long a hold-out for free news online -- they're likely to be among them.

Here Today...

NBC had a rough year. Today Show's hegemony in morning ratings came to an end after fifteen years at the top. With its dominance in weekday morning television ratings, Today Show had carried NBC through tough times as the most profitable program on network TV. But in 2012, ABC's Good Morning America started making significant advances. NBC scrambled to maintain its lead, forcing out co-host Ann Curry, who had only been there a year, and replacing her with Savannah Guthrie. Curry's exit was anything but smooth and the backlash was fierce with viewers. What's more, the change didn't alter the ABC's trend and by November, Good Morning America had scored its first win in sweeps over the Today Show. NBC isn't out of trouble yet and the network recently shuffled its morning show leadership. Rumors persist that more changes may still be coming, including that co-host Matt Lauer could be forced out as well. Today Show remains the network's crown jewel.

Lonely at the Top

2012 was a roller coaster year for Fox News. Though its morning show, Fox & Friends, and afternoon programming made significant gains in viewership, Fox had moments that could most politely be described as cringe-worthy. In May, Fox & Friends ran a four-minute segment on Obama's presidency that looked like it had come off of Karl Rove's cutting room floor. The network disavowed the segment -- which was widely considered an attack ad -- and blamed an associate producer for the piece. Just a month later, Fox News made a mistake in inaccurately reporting the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

The network was also responsible for this year's most shocking moment on cable news -- though much of it was not their fault. As cable news networks often do to fill time in the afternoons, Fox News aired live footage of a mid-day car chase in Arizona. As Fox viewers watched in real time, the driver of the speeding vehicle pulled off to the side and, unfortunately for Fox, the network was unable to cut the feed before he shot himself on live, national television. Anchor Shepard Smith could be heard in the background yelling for producers to dump out, but it was too late.

But the most talked-about Fox News moment of the year came on election night. After the network declared Obama the victor in Ohio, Karl Rove lost it. On live television, Rove began questioning the network's methodology and criticizing the decision -- on their own air. Finally, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes contacted anchor Megyn Kelly, who was on air with Rove, and got her to take a camera down a long, long hallway to the election night team and get them to explain exactly why they had called the race for Obama. In the aftermath of the election, Fox changed its rules for inviting Rove back on the air. Executives decided that producers would now have to specifically request permission to have Rove on as a guest. The same rule applied to Republican pollster Dick Morris, whose prediction of a Romney victory proved inaccurate.

But despite an awkward year, Fox still had the top 11 cable news shows for 2012.

Roberts Rules of Order

Even as "Good Morning America" prospered this year, one of the reasons for its success had to take a leave of absence. Co-host Robin Roberts contracted myelodysplastic syndrome and was forced to take a leave of absence to work on her recovery. The show incorporated her treatment and recovery into the daily routine and landed major guest hosts like Stephen Colbert to take her place. Roberts is recovering well and is still on track to return to the show in the future.

Good Morning America aside, the network had a good year overall. In addition to its other successes, ABC's own Martha Raddatz, not normally a domestic political reporter, was selected to moderate the Vice Presidential debate and had some memorable moments with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Vice President Biden.

New Kids On The Block

When Politico's Ben Smith announced late last year that he was leaving his must-read blog behind to take over as the Editor-in-Chief of "BuzzFeed," a website then known for its LOLcats, the D.C. press corps was understandably befuddled. But Smith believed in the new enterprise and got started on January 1 in Des Moines, Iowa, covering the presidential campaign alongside reporters from mainstream outlets. He spent much of the early part of this year staffing up, hiring Andrew Kaczynski, the young YouTube scout who made a name for himself online finding old clips of politicians contradicting themselves, bringing on political reporter McKay Coppins from Newsweek and pulling John Stanton away from Roll Call to run his D.C. bureau -- oh yeah, and he created a D.C. bureau. It would be hard to argue that "BuzzFeed" didn't have an outsized effect on coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign, particularly given its small staff and humble, confusing roots.

Latin Empire

The growing electoral power of the country's Hispanic population made itself known in the media world this year. ABC made a big leap in announcing a partnership with Univision to create a 24 hour news network. The planned network could rival cable mainstays and would give ABC its first solid footing in cable news. Univision's Sunday show Al Punto saw a big ratings boost this year and now rivals the other Sunday shows on initial broadcast numbers each week. The network didn't get the presidential debate they wanted, but Univision did play host to two presidential forums with each of the general election candidates. As the new network takes shape and candidates from both parties continue to focus on the booming Hispanic population, 2013 promises to be another big year for Hispanic media.

Who's The Boss?

2012 saw a lot of change at the top of the masthead at some of the biggest names in print and online media. First, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart died unexpectedly in March, at age 43, leaving behind a media empire that is still fractured and searching for its voice in his absence. The loss couldn't have come at a worse time for the right, with the Republican Party's presidential nomination process -- a battle between the establishment and Breitbart's brand of grassroots conservatism -- still underway. In August, the New York Times hired a new CEO, nearly eight months after forcing Janet Robinson out -- with a $24 million compensation package. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. settled on former BBC director general Mark Thompson, whose deep digital background was yet another indication of the Times' focus on producing and monetizing online journalism. Of course, the Thompson pick came with its fair share of downsides, but more on that later. Finally, in November, after months of rumored turmoil between Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli, Brauchli stepped down after only four years on the job. The move will leave the Post with a largely new staff at the top of the masthead when Boston Globe editor Marty Baron takes over on January 2.

CNN & The Fall

Fox News wasn't the only major network to make a mistake on the health care ruling: CNN blew it too. But the health care ruling fiasco wasn't the worst calamity to hit the network. Gains at MSNBC in ratings solidified CNN's third place ranking for much of the year, leaving CNN entirely dependent on its wheelhouse: breaking news events. 2012 wasn't short on those, but there were hardly enough Hurricane Sandys to fill time on a 24-hour cable news network. While it wasn't all bad for CNN this year -- Candy Crowley was the first woman in over 20 years to moderate a presidential general election debate -- the network was left with the same question it always faces: how to fill the other 23-hours of the day in the absence of breaking news. CNN President Jim Walton stepped down this year citing a need for new strategies and, months later, they hired former NBC President Jeff Zucker. Zucker's hiring means change is coming to CNN. While at NBC, Zucker made memorable advances, including making Today Show the powerhouse it is today (or was in 2011) and forcing late night host Conan O'Brien out of his spot on the Tonight Show in order to bring back Jay Leno.

Anarchy In The U.S.

After the British phone hacking scandal that dominated 2011, the media experienced its own dust-ups a little closer to home in 2012. New Yorker contributor and pop-science writer Jonah Lehrer resigned from the magazine in July after he admitted fabricating quotes from musician Bob Dylan for an earlier book. Lehrer's resignation came after months of criticism for lifting his own material from other publications for posts on the as well as Wired, which lead to the creation of a contentious new media phrase "self-plagiarism." Politico's White House correspondent Joe Williams found himself in hot water over the summer for suggesting on MSNBC that Romney was uncomfortable around black people. That comment -- and other racially charged tweets he composed -- ended up getting Williams fired, just two months after he pled guilty to assaulting his ex-wife.

Not all of this year's scandals were entirely home-grown. The BBC found itself embroiled in controversy earlier this year, when it was revealed that not only had one of its former (and most famous) TV personalities been accused of molesting hundreds of underage girls, but that the company had killed at least two investigations into those claims by its own news programs. That scandal might have stayed in the U.K. had the New York Times not picked the man-in-charge at the time to become its CEO. Mark Thompson, who began his new gig in New York last month, was recently cleared of wrongdoing, but a BBC report on the matter called his judgment into question. That concern has been echoed in the Times' own pages, leading some to speculate that Thompson's tenure at the top might be short-lived, but New York Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has stuck by his hand-picked successor (Sulzberger served as the company's interim CEO as they searched for a replacement).

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