2022 in Review: 4 Media Trends We Watched This Year
While there may not have been a chaotic presidential election or a world-shattering pandemic to cover (at least not quite as often), 2022 had its fair share of major events that required in-depth, regular coverage by journalists.
Whether it was covering months of the House Select Committee’s January 6 hearings; an unprecedented leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on the future of abortion rights (and the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade); a constantly-evolving Ukraine/Russa war; chaos at Big Tech companies like Meta and Twitter; or the build-up to and results of the midterm elections, reporters had a lot on their plates.
We’ve been watching these stories all year, as well as the ones about the media industry itself. Every Friday, we recap some of the biggest media news headlines of the week in our Media Insider roundups.
As the year comes to a close, let’s review some of the recurring media trends we noticed throughout 2022.
Jump to a trend: Chaos at CNN | Media Layoffs | New Launches | Ongoing Union Wave
A Chaotic Year for CNN
It’s hard to imagine another media outlet coming up more often in the news this year than CNN. It was a tumultuous year for the cable news company, which saw its parent company, WarnerMedia, merge with Discovery in April.
The network started 2022 on a down note after firing anchor Chris Cuomo for an ethics scandal last December, which eventually led to Cuomo filing for $125 million in damages. Then in February, the company’s longtime president, Jeff Zucker, resigned after his romantic relationship with another executive came to light during the Cuomo investigation.
In April came the shocking failure of CNN+, the company’s new streaming service. It was shut down just a month after launching. The blow came after the network had recruited big names like Chris Wallace and Audie Cornish to host shows on the streaming service.
That was followed by new CNN president Chris Licht saying during a town hall that he did not expect to make major cuts to the network’s staff…but we all know how that turned out. Since taking the helm, Licht has announced the exits of some of the network’s biggest names, including Brian Stelter and White House correspondent John Harwood. Any remaining CNN+ staffers were laid off by the end of September.
CNN also overhauled its programming leading up to the midterm elections. Its morning show got a new look, name (“CNN This Morning”), and hosts in Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow, and Kaitlin Collins. It also announced that Jake Tapper would fill the spot previously held by Cuomo, which had been covered by a rotating list of hosts since Cuomo’s exit.
And in early October, it was announced that former President Trump was suing CNN for defamation and was seeking $475 in punitive damages. The suit claims CNN used its influence “to defame the Plaintiff in the minds of its viewers and readers for the purpose of defeating him politically, culminating in CNN claiming credit for ‘[getting] Trump out’ in the 2020 presidential election.”
The changes don’t seem to be over yet, as the company announced layoffs at the end of November.
Looking ahead: As Licht continues making moves to bring the cable network’s coverage closer to center, many are expecting more big names to head elsewhere (whether they choose to leave or are forced out remains to be seen). We’ll also see if some version of CNN+ is revived by Discovery.
Media Layoffs Paint a Bleak Picture
As the country rebounded from the pandemic, it seemed that the media industry would be able to put the brakes on layoffs – at least somewhat. But unfortunately, while large newspapers and digital sites saw a decline in layoffs, the industry as a whole didn’t see a complete end or reversal of the trend.
Data showed that the rate of local newspaper closures in the U.S. did not change from pre-pandemic levels. Penelope Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, explained that the expected “death knell” for newspapers didn’t occur. However, she said, “The bad news is, or the concerning news is, we are continuing to lose newspapers at the same rate we’ve been losing them since 2005.”
So like our roundups over the past several years, there is still a need for this year’s recap to focus on the layoff trends across the media industry in 2022.
In addition to the layoffs at CNN mentioned above, a number of other outlets made cuts this year, including (but definitely not limited to):
- Spotify shut down its founding podcast studio in early January, affecting 10-15 employees.
- Several tenured staffers at pop culture site A.V. Club lost their jobs in January after refusing to relocate to Los Angeles.
- To increase profits, BuzzFeed offered voluntary buyouts to its news division staffers in March. And just last week, the company announced cuts to another 12% of its workforce due to “worsening macroeconomic conditions.”
- Also in March, Lee Enterprises quietly laid off editors and other staff across local newspapers after a hostile takeover bid from Alden Global Media. The news got worse in May when it was reported that more than 400 roles were expected to be cut across the company. In early November, it was reported that Alden has abandoned its takeover efforts.
- Food52 let go of 20 people, mainly from its content, creative, and marketing teams, as part of a company reorganization in April.
- Magazine publisher Outside Inc. laid off more than 60 employees in May as a result of its shift from print to digital. And within the last few weeks, the company cut another 12% of its staff, a move founder and CEO Robin Thurston attributed to “slowing consumer appetite and a softening digital ad market.”
- Newsletter start-up Substack laid off 13 staffers, or 14% of its employees, in June as funding started to dry up.
- After being relaunched by Recurrent Ventures, Mel Magazine was shut down again in July, resulting in all 15 staff members being let go.
- Gannett had another rough year. The publisher laid off about 400 employees (3% of its staff) and eliminated another 400 open positions in August after announcing major revenue losses in the second quarter. Then in October, Gannett announced a hiring freeze, voluntary buyouts, and a pause to matching 401(k) contributions. “These are truly challenging times,” CEO Mike Reed said. “The company continues to face headwinds and uncertainty from the deteriorating macroeconomic environment which has led the executive team to take further immediate action.” And in early November, Gannett Media president Maribel Perez Wadsworth announced that she’d be stepping down as of Dec. 31. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there, as more cuts were announced in early December.
Looking ahead: Although the summer saw some publishers going full steam ahead on their hiring plans, predictions for the end of the year were bleak. Here’s hoping that 2023 will be the year that this trend sees a reversal.
New Outlets and News Products
Despite layoffs across the industry and a number of outlets ending their print productions, the media industry also saw a wave of new launches in 2022.
In January, the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford released its predictions for journalism and the media in 2022. Among the predictions, it said a “key challenge for the news media this year is to re-engage those who have turned away from news – as well as to build deeper relationships with more regular news consumers.” Outlets new and old indeed worked this year on figuring out ways to attract and retain readers.
Perhaps the buzziest launch of the year came from former New York Times media columnist Ben Smith and former Bloomberg Media Chief Executive Officer Justin Smith (the two are not related). Ben Smith announced his exit from the Times and plans for the new company back in January. Their digital media outlet, Semafor, debuted in October. Articles are formatted using a structure called “Semaform,” which features sections for the news, opinions, counterarguments, and related stories.
Other launches this year included:
- The Los Angeles Times announced the formation of the 404, a new team tasked with “continually inventing new types of experimental content” with a goal of reaching younger, more diverse audiences not already reading The L.A. Times.
- Several journalists launched Hell Gate in July. The blog-style news site balances the heavy with the light and infuses humor into its coverage of New York City.
- 26-year-old San Francisco entrepreneur Yehong Zhu created Zette, which launched in beta in the fall. The product plans to charge $9.99/month for 30 articles. When users hit a paywalled article, they’ll use a Google Chrome browser extension to read the story in its original format, including illustrations and ads. A recent press release says the product will be ready for public launch in 2023.
- The Daily Beast introduced Obsessed, its new pop culture brand, in August. It includes interviews, analysis, casting news, and trailers from streamers.
- Several publishers, including Fortune, Bloomberg, Forbes, Gizmodo, and Money, grew their teams dedicated to covering the blockchain and crypto – despite a “crypto winter.”
- In September, the digital newsletter Glitz Paris launched to cast an investigative lens on the luxury fashion industry, one that’s “closed, family-run, with very little available information and obsessive control about reputation,” according to editor in chief Philippe Vasset.
- The News Movement launched in October after nearly a year in beta. The social media-focused company aims to reach Gen Z with nonpartisan news and claims 80,000 followers and 26 million+ views.
- Just in time for the midterm elections, Pluribus News began publishing. The news startup began with a newsroom of six employees and will cover economic, infrastructure, health care, and energy and environmental policy across all 50 states.
Looking ahead: As media companies continue to grapple with the balance of paywalls, subscriber growth, and reaching underserved audiences, we’re sure to see more unique publishers and models hit the market.
Unionization Wave Keeps Coming
Last year’s media news recap noted that 2021 was a record year for media employees unionizing, and that trend continued through 2022. In August, data from Pew Research Center found that “around one-in-six U.S. journalists at news organizations report being in a union and many more say they would join one if it were available to them.”
As we dug our way out of the pandemic, unions weren’t just focused on salary increases and DEI initiatives. They were increasingly also coming to the table to discuss return-to-office plans.
Among the union news this year:
- Outside Magazine staffers kicked off the year with the release of their “Mission Statement,” which called for better working conditions.
- Also in January, The New York Magazine Union reached a deal for its first contract, which includes salary increases and guaranteed yearly increases in pay, after more than two years of negotiations.
- Roughly 100 unionized journalists at G/O Media newsrooms Jezebel, The Root, Lifehacker, Kotaku, Jalopnik, and Gizmodo went on strike in March after negotiations for a third contract broke down.
- More than 350 Condé Nast staffers asked the company to voluntarily recognize their union at the end of March. “It comes down to prestige doesn’t pay the bills,” said Vanity Fair Web producer Jaime Archer. The union won recognition in September.
- The BuzzFeed News Union voted overwhelmingly in favor (90%) of a newsroom strike in March when management’s decisions made the union feel “not valued” and “not needed.” A contract, which actually includes protection from ghosts (seriously), was ratified later in March.
- Journalists at Washington-based The Hill petitioned to unionize in May. They voted 45-18 to unionize in the summer.
- At the end of July, 69 workers at PBS NewsHour had their union voluntarily recognized by management.
- In August, roughly 300 U.S.-based Reuters journalists began a 24-hour strike in protest of stalled contract negotiations.
- Around the same time, the union at the New York Daily News blamed owner Alden Global Capital for unsustainable work conditions that left remaining staff “hanging by a thread.”
- Last week, more than 1,100 New York Times employees took part in a historic 24-hour strike after more than a year and a half of failed negotiations with management. It was the first act of protest by NYT staffers in decades.
Looking ahead: Newsrooms are moving forward with return-to-office plans, continuing to cut print editions as they transition to digital-only models, adapting to new technologies like AI, and navigating consolidation in the media industry. It’s unlikely that this wave of unionization in the media industry will die out.
2022 was another year of fantastic journalism. Reporters continued to balance a hectic news cycle, battle ongoing waves of misinformation and distrust in the media, and navigate an ever-changing media landscape. Although some trends like layoffs persisted year over year, a swath of new products and outlets was a bright spot as newsrooms and journalists experimented with new ways to reach underserved audiences. We’re excited to see what’s in store for the media industry in 2023.
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Rocky Parker is the Manager of Audience and Journalist Engagement at Cision PR Newswire. She's been with the company since 2010 and has worked with journalists and bloggers as well as PR and comms professionals. Outside of work, she can be found trying a new recipe, binging a new show, or cuddling with her pitbull, Hudson.