You can exhale. We’re close to the end of 2020, marking the conclusion of one of the most consequential years of news in modern history.
The major stories were seismic. There was a pandemic that brought the world to a grinding halt, emptying newsrooms just as more people than ever clamored for information about one of the biggest global outbreaks since the 1918 flu.
Protests against racial injustice, after the killing of George Floyd, erupted first across the country in the Spring, and soon spread around the world.
There was a presidential election — conducted over Zoom — that saw the largest number of votes cast in U.S. history: more than 161 million. That election concluded with the sitting president of the United States refusing to concede defeat and seeking to overturn the results.
As ever, the news media was a central character in all of these stories. Cable news in particular has been thrust into the center of the news cycle thanks to President Donald Trump’s fixation with the medium, a fixation that has tormented the industry’s top stars — while helping to keep it thriving. With just a month until Trump exits the White House, the industry is bracing for even more change.
Our list of the Most Influential in News Media chronicles the 75 figures who shaped — and made — the headlines in 2020. Our criteria was comprehensive but also subjective. Some metrics, such as ratings, social media reach, and time-slot placement are easily measurable. Other factors, like proximity to power, buzz from industry insiders, and influence over one’s audience, are more abstract. While harder to decipher, these latter variables figure prominently in our rankings.
Here, we rank the anchors, pundits, reporters, editors, executives, writers, late night comics and others who demonstrated they have the most influence in the world we hold dear.
Without further ado, we are proud to present our 2020 selections for the Most Influential in News Media.
This list was written by Colby Hall, Joe DePaolo, Leia Idliby, Tommy Christopher, Caleb Howe, Josh Feldman, Sarah Rumpf, Aidan McLaughlin, Rudy Takala, Ken Meyer, Reed Richardson, Marisa Sarnoff and KJ Edelman.
75. Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan
2020 was the year of the independent paid newsletters. We are talking largely, of course, about Substack, a platform for subscription newsletters that saw a flock of high-profile writers ditch cushier jobs in establishment media to join its stable this year. Most prominent of the defectors was Glenn Greenwald, the leftist journalist who quit the website he founded, The Intercept, in a huff over an editorial dispute. That disagreement: Intercept editors sought to edit one of Greenwald’s pieces about Joe Biden, an act they described as common practice, but one he saw as censorship. Greenwald joined another disenchanted talent on Substack: Andrew Sullivan, the mightily influential journalist who left New York magazine for the indy platform earlier in the year. His writing on race, dating back decades, factored into his departure. Both Greenwald and Sullivan found powerful — and editor-free — platforms at Substack, where they now rank among the top paid publishers. Sullivan alone said he rakes in half a million per year from his little newsletter. That’s a lot of subscribers.
74. Bill Hemmer
We noted on this very list last year that Bill Hemmer’s star was rising at Fox News, and the network rewarded him in 2020 with his own show. Launching in January, Hemmer entered the fray in the midst of a historic impeachment, one month before a pandemic hit, during an election year. Talk about timing! Hemmer also had some big shoes to fill: the anchor was replacing Shepard Smith. The numbers have been promising. Bill Hemmer Reports averaged 1.9 million in total viewers in 2020, overtaking his predecessor and surpassing both MSNBC and CNN in the 3 p.m. hour. In fact, Hemmer holds a double-digit advantage over the competition – beating CNN’s Jake Tapper by 32% and MSNBC by 33%. His coverage has been compelling, whether he’s calling out the press for asking Joe Biden softballs or calling out the Trump campaign’s lack of evidence of a stolen election.
73. Omar Jimenez
This 27-year-old CNN correspondent stamped himself as a future star in 2020. His fearless coverage of protests in Kenosha, Portland and beyond earned him great acclaim. But of course, it was one shocking moment on a Friday morning in Minneapolis this May which made him a household name. In one of the most stunning real-time sequences in cable news history, Omar Jimenez and his crew were taken into custody by the Minneapolis police on live air. The correspondent’s arrest set off a firestorm, with the entire industry standing behind a reporter who was simply doing his job. Ninety minutes later, Jimenez was released. And in a New Day live hit just minutes after he was let go, the correspondent delivered a poised, polished, stoic account of what happened. His work earned him hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers within hours, and served as a clear signal that he stands be a cable news power player for years to come.
72. Jennifer Jacobs
2020 was a huge year for the White House beat, and one reporter had a near-monopoly on one quintessential White House story of the year: the steady parade of Trump administration figures who tested positive for the coronavirus. Bloomberg News’ Jennifer Jacobs honed her skills at the intersection of political reporting and local shoe-leather journalism during her 12 yeas at The Des Moines Register, skills that have served her well since joining Bloomberg to cover national politics in 2016. But her moment really arrived this year, over and over again, as she broke story after story of Trumpworld figures getting Covid infections. Her scoop on Hope Hicks’ positive test is widely credited with forcing the administration to go public with President Trump’s infection, a seismic moment in our politics and culture.
If good sources make good reporters, then Jacobs has quite a leg up.
71. Harris Faulkner
The central host of Fox News’s noon-time program, Outnumbered, was a familiar name for Mediaite readers in 2020. Harris Faulkner kept order among a wide variety of co-hosts — and sought to knock some sense into many of them. Those occasions can make for awkward moments, like the time she whacked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for bringing up George Soros during a conversation on criminal justice. But Faulkner’s ability to extract coherent discussion out of a diverse stable of talent illustrates why she’s at the top of the industry. She also has a knack for scoring big guests: President Trump’s first interview after nationwide protests erupted over the killing of George Floyd was with Harris Faulkner. What’s more, she juggles noon hosting duties with her job anchoring the 1 p.m. hour on Fox News, Outnumbered Overtime, making her one of the most watched Black women in television news.
70. Ben Shapiro
Ben Shapiro stepped down as editor of the Daily Wire, the website he founded, in 2020. But he remains editor emeritus and host of an extremely popular eponymous radio show, as well as conservative thought leader and a social media traffic titan. There is a love/hate relationship between Shapiro and the mainstream press — for a while, the latter caught some attention from outlets like over his opposition to Trump before has was placed back in the Trump bin. But his Facebook and Twitter power, and the influence of the site he founded, hasn’t seemed to wax and wane correspondingly. And media stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engage. Shapiro influences every issue on which he weighs in, and influence is the name of the game. Whether it’s for criticizing Trump or praising him, he’s a constant presence in the political landscape. Now even more so than when he debuted on this list in 2017.
69. Erin Burnett
Erin Burnett has come a long way since she cut her teeth as a financial analyst, and later as a financial journalist at a time when people felt comfortable referring to women like her as a “Money Honey.” After several years at CNBC, Burnett made her debut at CNN in 2011, and has been a rising star at the network ever since. As the host of Erin Burnett OutFront, Burnett sets the tone for CNN’s prime time programming with a 7 p.m. hour chock full of news and interviews with often big name guests. Along the way, Burnett has developed a reputation as a straight-shooting anchor who eschews resistance journalism theatrics in favor of a more objective viewpoint that gives her greater credibility as an interviewer, and lends authority to her commentary and analysis. Those facets are tailor-made for a 2020 news landscape that was heavy on fatiguing screeds and light on cool-headed journalism. Whatever the secret to Burnett’s appeal, viewers have noticed, and 2021 figures to be even better.
68. Linsey Davis
ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis has been covering major news stories for more than a decade, but in 2020 she stepped to the forefront. As the host of two prime time hours on ABC News Live, the network’s streaming news service, she’s helped boost streaming audience numbers by 118% this year. In February, she was a moderator of a Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire, and in November, she co-anchored ABC’s Election Night coverage. During the February debate, she held Pete Buttigieg’s feet to the fire over a jump in minority drug arrests in South Bend, Indiana. Buttigieg memorably tried to deflect with some misleading statistics, but Davis was undeterred, and pushed Buttigieg for an answer. Leading up to the Iowa Caucuses, Davis interviewed the spouses of seven of the Democratic presidential candidates, including Buttigieg’s husband Chasten, as part of a series called “Running Mates.” And with Davis as co-host, along with David Muir and George Stephanopoulos, ABC News beat out both NBC and CBS for the most broadcast viewers on Election Night.
67. Ari Melber
MSNBC’s Ari Melber is a former attorney-turned-Emmy-award-winning journalist, whose show The Beat with Ari Melber has remained consistently popular with viewers in its third full year on air. He seamlessly blends three areas of expertise – law, journalism, and hip-hop – and is equally comfortable talking politics and culture with rapper Busta Rhymes as he is going head-to-head with Alan Dershowitz on defending Donald Trump from impeachment charges. The formula is working: The Beat has seen year over year ratings growth, and in 2020 his show continued to break records with a string of ratings victories — sometimes besting both Fox and CNN. In addition to his nightly show, Melber has two other hosting gigs: on NBC.com, he hosts Mavericks, an interview show that has features guests such as music producer Swizz Beatz, director Judd Apatow, and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, while on Apple Music, Melber hosts Nevuary Radio, which takes a look at hip-hop from the 1990s and 2000s.
66. Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert spearheaded the at-home content of CBS this year when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the entertainment world in March — making headlines for hosting The Late Show from his bathtub. On top of his late-night success, Colbert was an executive producer of instant hit Tooning Out the News, an animated political satire that parodied top news stories and interviewed real-life guests throughout the 2020 election — often to viral success. The Late Show — thanks in no small part to the deft guidance of showrunner Chris Licht — has also continued its streak as the most-watched and most politically relevant late-night talk show, as Colbert constantly landed coveted interviews before any of his rivals. Marking two particularly stellar episodes, Colbert was joined by Barack Obama for the host’s first in-person interview since March, and traveled to Delaware in December to chat with both Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden — scoring the first joint interview with the soon-to-be president and first lady.
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