Media Insider: Axios Returns PPP Loan, Publishers Increase Facebook Ads, LMA Launches Chicago News Collaborative

Welcome to Media Insider, PR Newswire’s round-up of media stories from the week.

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Axios Returns Small Business Loan

Axios is returning the loan it received through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The media outlet noted in a post by CEO Jim VandeHei that it has come under criticism for accepting the funds. “Axios, which qualified for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to avoid layoffs, will return the money, after nearing a deal for an alternative source of capital,” VandeHei wrote. “In the four weeks since Axios applied for the loan, based on big coronavirus business losses, there has been a public backlash against a variety of companies for taking the PPP, including us.” VandeHei said Axios had taken a financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to physical events that were scrapped and cancellations by advertisers. “This will hopefully free up $4.8 million in loans for other small businesses still struggling to find capital,” he said.

Meanwhile, many smaller publishers are finding themselves shut out of PPP loans.

Publishers Look to Cheap Facebook Ads to Increase Subscriptions

Over the past seven weeks, many publishers have welcomed a “coronavirus bump” in subscribers as news consumption rises. That bump has been helped along by a significant acceleration in Facebook ad spending. For example, subscriber growth across Condé Nast’s portfolio is up 100% from the start of March compared to the same period year over year. And 50% of the new subscriptions its titles have accumulated are coming from paid efforts, a spokesperson said. Thanks to a combination of soft advertiser demand on those platforms, strong engagement from readers, and conversion on their own sites, the cost of acquiring a digital subscriber has slid in the past month. Those same factors have made Facebook an attractive place for publishers to gather newsletter subscribers. In the first half of April, the cost of acquiring a newsletter subscriber through Facebook fell from 75 cents to 25 cents, thanks to a combination of lower CPMs and significantly higher clickthrough rates, an executive at a second news publisher said.

Subscription growth has been a bright spot since COVID-19 took hold, with publishers like Bloomberg, WSJ, and The Atlantic seeing subscription spikes.

LMA Announces Launch of Chicago News Collaborative, Funded by Google News Initiative

Local Media Association is forming a news collaborative in Chicago, an initiative that will bring together a diverse mix of local media organizations designed to increase investigative reporting and solutions-based journalism in and around the city. The project is being initially funded by the Google News Initiative with the goal of attracting other funders over time. The collaborative will focus first on developing and sharing local and regional news content related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on Chicago. Over time, collaborative news reporting and curation will evolve to include other topics of significance to residents of the city and surrounding areas. Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA), which represents more than 60 diverse news organizations in the city, will serve as a strategic partner. A playbook also will be developed to help news organizations set up collaborative initiatives in cities all across North America. 

LMA also is working with Inasmuch Foundation on the Oklahoma Media Center, a news collaborative for local media organizations in the state.

IFCN Distributes Another $300k Through the Coronavirus Fact-Checking Grants

Fact-checking projects from Australia, France, Indonesia, Canada, Jordan, Kenya, Taiwan, and Ukraine have been selected from among more than 170 applications to receive funding from the Coronavirus Fact-Checking Grant. In this second and final release of grant money, the International Fact-Checking Network, with Facebook’s support, will distribute $300,000 to the eight projects to fight COVID-19 disinformation. The first 13 projects, which received $500,000 from the grant, were announced April 2. The recipients’ projects will start as soon as possible (some of them are already underway) and will last up to six months. The goal of Coronavirus Fact-Checking Grants, announced March 17, is to curb mis/disinformation about the pandemic and strengthen the fact-checking community.

Fact-checkers interested in applying for a grant can read more about it here.

Vox Media Site Curbed to Be Merged Into New York Magazine

Curbed, the real estate site owned by Vox Media, is getting kicked to the curb and merged into New York magazine. Curbed’s editor-in-chief, Kelsey Keith, tweeted she was stepping down last week. On Tuesday, the company revealed it will be furloughing workers covering Austin, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit, and publishing at reduced frequency in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. As of May 1, the operation, headed by Executive Editor Mercedes Kraus, will report to New York magazine Editor-in-Chief David Haskell. Vox Media picked up New York magazine’s owner New York Media, which also owns Vulture, Grub Street, and The Cut, in a stock deal last year. Curbed was acquired by Vox in 2013.

Earlier this month, Vox said it would be furloughing more than 100 employees.

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Maria Perez is Director, Web Experience & Operations at Cision. In her spare time, she runs Bags of Love Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides cancer patients with care packages aimed at making their treatment more comfortable. She also enjoys kickboxing, baking, and cuddling with her dog Toody, who thinks he rules the world.

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