By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

‘Catch and kill’ isn’t new; plus, Facebook spurns news, and why the WSJ will miss Rupe

Three media tidbits for your Tuesday morning:

• Catch and kill. The National Enquirer’s practice of paying for stories and of deep-sixing articles in order to gain power and influence over someone — known as “catch and kill” — didn’t start with former Enquirer owner David Pecker. Nor was Donald Trump the first alleged beneficiary. I recommend “Scandalous,” a 2019 documentary about the Enquirer that is revealing and highly entertaining. Both Bob Hope and Bill Cosby were caught dead to rights in tawdry sexual affairs, and the Enquirer killed stories about those affairs in order to force them to cooperative in cheery feature stories. Pecker’s innovation was to politicize the practice.

• Facebook and news. Back when I was reporting my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls,” news organizations desperately sought to use Facebook as a way of distributing their journalism. News publishers liked to talk about “the barbell,” by which they would attract readers on Facebook (one end of the barbell) and try to get them to migrate to their own digital products (the other end of the barbell), where, it was hoped, they would become paying subscribers.

In the years since, Meta executives have decided news just isn’t worth it and have throttled journalism on Facebook and other products, including Threads and Instagram. How bad is it? The Washington Post has conducted a data analysis (free link) showing that “the 25 most-cited news organizations in the United States lost 75 percent of their total user engagement on Facebook” between the first quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2024. It’s further evidence that news organizations’ business models shouldn’t be dependent on giant corporations with their own agendas.

• The WSJ will miss Murdoch. Axel Springer, the right-wing German media conglomerate that took over Politico in 2021, has its sights set on The Wall Street Journal, according to Ben Smith of Semafor. Rupert Murdoch, through his control of the Fox News Channel and other outlets on three continents, may be the most malignant media magnate on the planet. But he’s been a surprisingly good steward of the Journal, which after 17 years of his ownership remains one of our great newspapers. At 93, he won’t be in charge too much longer. And here’s a quote from Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner that you might enjoy: “I’m all for climate change. We shouldn’t fight climate change but adjust to it.”

I’ll grant you that’s something you might see on the Journal’s editorial page even  now. Murdoch, though, has been better about not letting that bleed into the news pages than Axel Springer might be.

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1 Comment

  1. Sebastian Banker

    I’ve always craved to hear what the Enquirer’s reader base thought of the practice when it came out in ’15. Were they grateful to be protected from word of scandals that might damage the wrong people? Or were they angry that news was being withheld from them?

    I guess the most Trump-era response would be if they shrugged their shoulders because “it’s all a racket anyway and the NYT definitely does it too.”

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