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As the COVID-19 crisis has exploded in India in recent weeks, the Twitter account of The Press Club of India has refashioned itself into an ad hoc publisher of obituaries for members of the profession.

The world has been increasingly watching in horror as something akin to a humanitarian crisis unfolds in the country, where the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the coronavirus mount at a staggering rate. The current surge in India has pushed the country’s number of total cases since the pandemic began to more than 19.5 million as of the time of this writing — second only to the US, per researchers at Johns Hopkins University. More than 215,000 have died there, and the country is adding on average more than 3,000 Covid-19 deaths every day, though the presumption is that those totals vastly undercount the true reality. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, not even 2% of India’s adult population of 940 million has been fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

“Every other day, we hear news of a member’s passing,” Amrita Madhukalya, a member of the press club’s managing committee, told me. “As part of the Twitter team, we know that the digital communication is important, especially since the Club is closed. Delhi is under lockdown right now.

“As soon as we get to hear of someone’s passing, we try and source details of their lives and then their pictures. In most cases, colleagues always come forward to help. The point is that we do not miss key details, and we do not get it wrong.” The club itself has more than 4,000 members journalists, and it is not uncommon to have days when the club tweets out multiple messages of condolence in memory of journalists who’ve died from Covid-19.

“It is gutting to see young lives go away in the blink of an eye. There are members who leave behind young kids. A popular member was 41, and he leaves behind two young daughters. Another member, who was a key member of the Club’s managing committee over the years, left yesterday. He followed his wife, who had passed a day earlier. The couple leave behind a daughter.”

While the surge there is being fueled partly by the spread of more virulent strains of Covid-19, India’s journalists told me that what’s happening right now is the result of a perfect storm of tragedy and self-inflicted errors. It’s a combination of low vaccination rates, hospitals running low on key supplies like oxygen, and wide swaths of the populace not being put under lockdown until it’s been too late, even as mass political rallies and unmasked political leaders have sent a message that a crisis is not at hand.

Dinakar Peri, a defense correspondent with the daily newspaper The Hindu, told me that the problem has been compounded by the supply of things like hospital beds, oxygen, ICU space, and life-saving therapeutics running dry. To the point that, in their desperation, people are often turning to journalists like him as a last resort, to help them find what they need. “Filing stories is one thing,” he told me, “but we are spending so much time trying to find any leads to beds, oxygen, ICU, ambulances, medicines. People think journalists have contacts, so they reach out and ask if we can pull a connection. In (most) cases we try, but it’s no luck or help arrived too late. The person is no more.”

I talked to a handful of journalists in the country in recent days, and while they gave me a just-the-facts summation of what’s happening there, those details cannot hide the fact that a tragically high number of journalists themselves are also succumbing to Covid-19 while trying to document what the country is experiencing. And that reality is yet another piece of evidence revealing how badly the leadership at all levels is failing.

For example, a journalist in the northern India city of Lucknow named Vinay Srivastava recently contracted Covid-like symptoms. In his frustration at being unable to obtain medical care, he started tweeting at local officials and included his falling oxygen levels. He died a few weeks ago. He was one of more than 121 journalists in India who’ve died as a result of Covid-19, according to the Press Emblem Campaign, a media group based in Switzerland.

Others include Kakoli Bhattacharya, a 51-year-old news assistant for The Guardian who died in Delhi. The family of Rohitash Gupta, a 36-year-old reporter in the Indian city of Bareilly, said he died at home after being unable to secure a hospital bed.

Peri told me that among the factors that allowed the virus to spread to this degree in India is many people not wearing masks in public. “Call it fatigue or callousness,” he said, unsure of whether people are simply fed up or if it’s more of a case of misinformation trickling down from the top. As far as the latter point, he does add that “the leadership encouraged (this behavior) in many ways, rather than correcting it — and definitely “declared victory over corona too early.”

Purva Chitnis, a correspondent for NDTV in Mumbai, told me in no uncertain terms that this has been “the most difficult phase in my nearly 6-year journalism career.” She told me about being haunted by the “desperate cries of people for medicines” and oxygen masks, as well as reporting from crematoriums and burial grounds.

“Seeing the dead up close was heart-wrenching. To put it even personally, I myself, along with my family, got infected in March. I was anxious back then, but today I would like to thank my stars that my family got infected when resources were available. But just one month later, things exploded — and how.

“Many people are not getting the hospital care that they deserve … Without getting political, as a journalist I feel the accountability for this has to be fixed. The approach to this was completely top-to-bottom. And in India, being a diverse nation, this approach failed completely.”

Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympian turned reality show celebrity who announced her bid for California governor last month, declared her first policy position Saturday, and it is squarely in-line with her Republican base. The most famous transgender athlete in the world is opposed to transgender girls playing sports according to their gender identity.

“It’s an issue of fairness,” Jenner tweeted, “and we need to protect girls’ sports in our schools.”

Jenner tweeted a story by TMZ, which she said approached her on her morning coffee run Saturday. The transphobic headline screamed: “If You’re a Biological Boy … YOU SHOULDN’T BE IN GIRLS’ SPORTS.”

Misgendering trans girls as “biological boys” isn’t just the fault of the gossip site, however; In the video showing Jenner putting her Black labrador retriever Baxter into the back of her Cadillac SUV before answering a question about the issue, the GOP hopeful told TMZ: “This is a question of fairness. That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls’ sports in school. It just isn’t fair. And we have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.”

Although the TMZ videographer tried to ask a follow-up question about bans on trans athletes delegitimizing the identity of those who transition, Jenner cut him off and turned her back to slip inside her $75K Escalade.

This position Jenner has staked out comes amid months of anti-transgender legislation in more than 30 states nationwide, with seven states already enacting laws banning trans female student-athletes; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vows to sign the eighth such ban soon. One state where there is no ban, pending or otherwise: California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall vote this fall.

Jenner’s comments on Saturday stand in stark contrast to words she said on the Outsports podcast, The Trans Sporter Room, in April 2020:

“I think every trans person, if they’re into athletics, should have an opportunity to compete and to improve themselves. I think sports is such a great way to learn a lot about yourself. And yeah, I want to, hopefully they’ll have the opportunity in the future to do whatever they can do. I’m all for it. I’m all for it.”

But that wasn’t her only flip-flop. Jenner also said, “Politics is something I don’t talk about any longer.”

One of the most powerful trans women in Hollywood, writer, producer and actor Jen Richards, was once a co-star on Jenner’s reality show, I Am Cait, and will soon be seen on the serial crime drama Clarice on CBS. She tweeted Saturday that she has not commented on the 71-year-old “for years.” But in response to Jenner’s statements, Richards lashed out, then later deleted the thread, noting that she wrote it in anger and did not mean to be cruel, and was alerted that her words could be construed as ableist. Other former co-stars had even stronger things to say, off the record.

There was also this response from actress Trace Lysette, who was an executive producer on the documentary Trans in Trumpland:

Other prominent voices in the trans community joined Lysette and Richards in refuting Jenner’s position, and even calling her out as “anti-trans.”

Trans athletes also weighed-in. Fallon Fox was the first out trans mixed martial arts competitor and is the subject of a film about her life, now in production:

Out trans powerlifter JayCee Cooper responded to a tweet quoting Jenner advocating for trans youth in 2020, calling her “a horrible human being:”

Trans actress Eileen Noonan offered her view: “I think it’s a cynical strategy to appeal to the Trump base. They love minority avatars willing to betray their own communities. It’s a divided field, she only needs a plurality to win in a CA recall, and she is willing to betray trans children.

In August 2015, Jenner, her I Am Cait costar Candis Cayne and out trans man Chaz Bono visited trans children at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles’ Center for Transyouth Health and Development. They met with trans youth and their families taking part in the Transforming Family support group… and of course, brought along their TV cameras.

Jenner posed for pictures with the kids, and as Refinery29 reported, talked with Bono for the first time since transitioning. Bono is soon to star in the comedy Reboot Camp, and has worked with the center since 2009 as a member of their advisory board. So is GLAAD’s director of transgender representation, Nick Adams.

“Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to use her series to spotlight groups which provide support and resources to transgender people is very important,” Adams told Refinery29 in 2015. “We hope that viewers at home who see the love and acceptance the trans kids in our group receive will want to learn more about how they can support the trans people in their own families, schools, workplaces, and communities.”

What Jenner is doing to win Republican votes is turning her back on each and every one of those young people, every transgender youngster in America, not just those who want to compete in sports, say advocates for trans youth.

“Parents of trans youth appreciate and value trans elders who can be possibility models for our kids,” wrote Debi Jackson, the mother of a trans girl whose face adorned the cover of National Geographicmagazine in 2016, and the founder of Gender Inc. “When Caitlyn first transitioned, it was wonderful to hear her say that she’s known she was trans since childhood. It was validating. But it’s disappointing and disheartening that she’s comparing her unaffirmed life and experiences with youth who are affirmed today. More than that, she is a danger to our kids by helping perpetuate the rampant misinformation about them. She needs to stop talking. Immediately.”

Following stints on a British jungle survivor reality show and The Masked Singer, once again, Jenner is getting what she apparently craves: attention. But it’s from right wing media outlets like Breitbart and their ilk, and social media support from those opposed to trans inclusion in sports. And yet, even in taking their side for whatever goal Jenner has — more fame, fortune or actual political ambition — perhaps the most likely outcome is that her candidacy will propagate and foster even more outright, unabashed and open transphobia.

CNN anchor Jim Acosta on Saturday described Fox News as a “bulls**t factory” in a segment on “another mind-boggling week in disinformation.” Acosta aired clips of Fox News hosts telling viewers that President Biden intended to force Americans to cut back on—or give up—eating meat. “Say goodbye to your burgers if you want to sign up for the Biden climate agenda,” said Fox News anchor John Roberts.

Noting that the story had been debunked—and that Fox News has issued a correction—Acosta said “that didn’t matter to some on the far-right, the same bad-faith actors who are always peddling the bogus red meat.”

Turning to another bogus story—that migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border were being given copies of a children’s book written by Vice President Kamala Harris as part of their welcome kits—Acosta said even thought it was baseless “the damage was done, pumped out over the airwaves by the bulls**t factory, Fox News.”

“Remember, lies—big lies—can have terrible consequences,” Acosta said. “They travel at the speed of light and spread so much darkness.”

On Manhattan’s Billionaires’ Row, just off Central Park, a luxury four-bedroom residence is up for sale. Featuring ten-foot ceilings, four-and-a-half bathrooms and an eat-in kitchen, the unit also includes 24-hour concierge service. The catch? Good luck finding it on the open market. The seller, whose identity was not disclosed, is soliciting offers from just a select group of buyers. If you don’t have the connections, you’ll never stand a chance. 

The Manhattan apartment deal is part of a booming trend in real estate that’s been spurred on by a massive shortage of residential properties: homes for sale that are never publicly advertised on major databases, better known as “pocket listings.”

The practice is most commonly associated with luxury enclaves, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s $27.8 million home purchase this month, which closed off-market. High-profile and wealthy sellers often view the deals as a way to protect their privacy.

But pocket listings are used across price ranges, and are gaining traction in this hot market. In some cases the transactions can offer the seller a fast-tracked deal with better terms. Broadly speaking, however, the practice has drawn scrutiny both from many real estate professionals and regulators due to its lack of transparency and the way it tilts sales to better connected buyers. Off-market transactions are inherently exclusionary, critics say, and can worsen housing segregation. The National Association of Realtors trade group moved to ban them in 2019.

 “It’s part of the real estate industry’s dark, smoke-filled room where, when listings are scarce, real estate agents don’t market the home to everyone. They just market the home to their own network,” says Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin. 

Redfin reports that, in places like Chicago, Indianapolis, Orlando, Las Vegas and New York, the use of pocket listings has at least doubled—and in the case of Las Vegas quadrupled—since 2018. “You’re starting to see just the openness of the housing market break down,” Kelman says. Overall use varies by city; in Chicago, for instance, Redfin estimates that 6.5% of total transactions likely closed off-market in March. In Las Vegas, that figure stood at 2.5%, despite the large percentage gain since 2018.

Elizabeth Korver-Glenn, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico, has studied pocket listings’ effect on fair housing. “I think they fly in the face of housing equity,” she says. “What happens when real estate agents use pocket listings is that they are essentially granting access only to those people in their networks. And within the context [of] racially segregated networks, that means that white agents… are opening them up disproportionately, almost exclusively, to potential homebuyers who are almost always white.” In some cases, she adds, sellers don’t list their homes publicly with the explicit intention of blocking certain buyers, generally people of color. 

The impetus for pursuing an off-market listing varies by case. Certain listing agents push for them because they can collect fees from both the buyer and seller if they tap their own network to close the deal—depending on local regulations. “I would love to hear that conversation… because there’s no freaking way that this serves the seller’s best interest,” says Antonia Ketabchi, a Redfin agent based in Maryland, who argues that open-market deals by definition attract more bidders. 

In other cases sellers insist on selling off-market. Chris Fry, a real estate salesperson at Elegran in New York City, says he typically pushes for a public listing, but when clients refuse—generally in the name of privacy— he markets the properties to prospective buyers through emails and other targeted outreach. “I think there are 22 contracts out in the West Village that are going to be closing and I’d say probably a third of them to half of them were off market,” he says. 

Frans Preidel, an associate broker at Brown Harris Stevens, is also generally opposed to pocket deals, but says there is an exception for cases when a buyer approaches the seller seeking to purchase a “listing that is not traditionally on the market.” 

Still, Kelman is quick to point out that pocket listings affect the entire market, and increasingly so, as inventory shortages intensify across the country.

“Everyone’s going to talk about selling Tom Cruise house…. It is totally not about that. That is not the main problem,” he says. “The main problem is a $1.2 million home in Orange County, California, where a lot of people would be interested… and the listing agent says there are just so many people who want to buy this I’m going to market it my own network.”

Because of that, Kelman is pushing to end the practice, despite its surging popularity, as is Korver-Glenn, but in the absence of a government or legal intervention, the deals are likely to go on.

The NFL typically dominates the most-watched primetime games telecasted in the United States. However, even the NFL suffered rating losses in 2020, down 11% from 2019. Similarly, several other major professional sports leagues saw much steeper declines. Yet in the last year, while men’s major sports viewership decreased, The GIST — a media company that centers women’s voices and provides equal coverage on men’s and women’s sports — grew it’s email newsletter audience by 350% and total revenue by over 1,000%. Last week, the company oversubscribed their $1 million seed-round with participation from 3GP Capital, JDS Sports, August Group, Even Odds Investments and Bettor Capital, and a group of angel investors who bring experience from R/GA Ventures, Barstool Sports and theSkimm.

“There is a massive lack of diversity in sports media — less than 14% of sports journalists are women. The GIST’s traction in the last year demonstrates there’s demand for a new and refreshing voice and format for sports news, and that there’s opportunity for the whole industry to grow when sports content is inclusive, accessible and equal in its coverage of men’s and women’s sports,” said Roslyn McLarty, co-founder of The GIST.

The GIST’s mission is to level the playing field in sports. In a male-dominated industry, The GIST brings traditionally absent female voices and perspectives to the forefront, allowing the publication to provide a refreshing angle and equal coverage on both men’s and women’s sports. 

Originally launched as a weekly newsletter providing ‘the gist’ of what’s happening in sport, the company has since expanded to a 3x-weekly newsletter providing content for the United States and Canada; and localized content for nine cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas, Toronto, and Ottawa. The GIST also hosts a weekly sports news podcast, The GIST of It, daily social media content and fantasy.

The GIST’s traction is reflective of a greater trend in the rise of both women-owned and operated sports media platforms and of women in sports, in general. Last month, four Olympic gold medalists including Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel and Sue Bird, joined forces to launch TOGETHXR, a media and commerce company aimed at celebrating millennial and Gen Z female athletes and their impact. 

Women’s professional sports viewership has grown significantly in the last year with the NWSL viewership growing 493% and the WNBA growing 68%. According to social media research firm, Zoomph, both leagues also scored higher on Twitter engagement rates during last summer’s shortened seasons than North America’s five men’s major leagues (NHL, NBA, MLS, NFL, and MLB). 

The industry’s growth and a new, passionate audience has also attracted corporate dollars from both sponsorship and investment perspectives. In 2020, Secret Deodorant committed $1 million to the PWHPA Dream Gap Tour. Glossier, the popular skincare and makeup brand, became the WNBA’s first ‘beauty partner,’ launching two new products and a promotional video featuring 8 WNBA players as “body heroes.” Recently, there has also been an influx of celebrity investors in women’s sports leagues and teams. Led by Natalie Portman, the NWSL’s most recent expansion team, Angel City FC, also boasts Eva Longoria, Serena Williams, Alexis Ohanian, Jennifer Garner and more as part of their ownership group. Meanwhile, four-time grand slam champion, Naomi Osaka, recently became an investor in the North Carolina Courage.

Similarly, The GIST has been able to leverage both the women’s and men’s sports calendars to earn meaningful revenue, working with brands that want to authentically connect and engage with it’s premium audience. The NBA, FanDuel, Wilson and Adidas are some of The GIST’s current strategic partners. “We’re on track to surpass our $1 million revenue target for 2021. As the space grows there’s been an increased demand to authentically engage with underserved sports fans. Our partners recognize a need to diversify their following, fans and customers and see The GIST as a gateway to accessing and earning the trust of female fans,” said The GIST co-founder, Jacie deHoop.

“We’re thrilled to back this team and support the mission of leveling the playing field,” said Matt Aronson, President of JDS Sports, a holding company that invests across sports media and technology. “The GIST is perfectly positioned to make sports coverage more accessible and inclusive, bring more fans into the fold, and thereby grow the entire industry at large.”

The GIST plans to invest the fresh capital into growing their audience, team, and product offering. “As much as this financing provides us with growth capital to scale our revenue, it also allows us to scale our impact on the sports industry. We’re demonstrating that it’s possible to be successful in a new model where sports fans — men and women alike — consume sports content that’s created by women, has equal coverage and covers athletes that are representative of a wider audience. We’re increasingly seeing women rightfully taking up space in sports and are grateful to have the opportunity to advance this movement in any way we can,” said The GIST co-founder, Ellen Hyslop.

Join the GIST community by signing up for their newsletter, listening to their podcast and following them on Instagram and Twitter.

The U.S. audience for streaming video already exceeds that of pay TV, and now a new study predicts that our streaming expenses will also top our total pay-TV expenditure by 2024.

In a forecast of U.S. subscription TV released Tuesday, the market-research firm Strategy Analytics said that while in 2020 we spent $90.7 billion on traditional pay TV (an 8% drop from 2019) and $39.5 billion on streaming (a 34% jump from the year before), by 2024 legacy pay TV will only account for $74.47 billion—with streaming ahead at $76.3 billion. 

And by 2026, pay-TV spend will only add up to 40% of our collective video budget, less than half of its 2016 share of 81%. 

Strategy’s press release quotes Michael Goodman, director of TV and media strategies at the Newton, Mass., firm, offering this bleak forecast for cable and satellite: “This is a long-term transition, but there is no doubt that the writing is on the wall for pay TV as we have known it for more than 40 years.”

Audience numbers for streaming video have been surging for some time—in an email Wednesday, Goodman noted that Strategy’s data showed streaming first topped pay TV in 2019, at 92.64 million households to 81.63 million households. 

But the metric of total spending matters more because traditional pay TV bills run so much higher, allowing cable and satellite operators to keep making more money even as their audience boils away. 

Goodman noted that this math still works for content owners too; don’t expect a cataclysmic end to Big Cable. 

“This is all about managing a declining market to maximize revenue,” he said. To illustrate that, he sketched out some simplified scenarios for Discovery

, which distributes both via pay TV and a direct-to-customer subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service—Discovery+, launched in January

Goodman estimated that in 2020, Discovery raked in $992.7 million in affiliate fees from U.S. pay-TV providers, assuming nearly 100% carriage and a $1.10 monthly payment per subscriber from them. Even after six more years of pay-TV receding, those affiliate fees would still total $761 million in 2026, assuming the same nearly-complete carriage and $1.10 rate. 

“Given these numbers it does not make sense for Discovery to abandon linear TV too soon,” he wrote. “There is still plenty of juice to be squeezed from this lemon.”

Meanwhile, if Discovery+ can hit 25 million U.S. subscribers paying $4.99 a month by 2025 (there’s also an ad-free version of this service at $6.99), Goodman said that would generate $1.5 billion in U.S. revenue. Advertising revenue would pad out both the pay TV and SVOD figures. 

“The challenge for Discovery and other programmers is managing their legacy channels while simultaneously growing their [direct to consumer] services to maximize revenue,” Goodman said. “Increasingly, Discovery will pour more resources into Discovery+ but it does not make sense at this point to just leave $761B on the table and abandon its linear channel.”

But Goodman’s colleague David Mercer, vice president and principal analyst for Strategy’s media and intelligent home practice, suggested sports could hit a breaking point sooner. He pointed to the streaming service DAZN’s recent win of domestic Italian rights to carry Lega Serie A soccer matches, beating out a bid from the satellite service Sky. 

“Obviously internet-based services have been chipping away at major sports rights in recent years, but this is the first example in a major market where internet will now be the primary platform for premium sports, high-viewership live events,” Mercer wrote.

Baseball fans should take note, as Major League Baseball is now trying to coax regional sports networks into offering direct-to-customer services after streaming-TV services have dumped so many of them—leaving most “RSNs” confined to cable, satellite and one particularly expensive streaming service.

Mercer suggested that both the broader transition from legacy pay TV bundles to streaming subscription video and the precedent just set in Italy could bode well for such a shift. 

“The funds are clearly there, in select cases for the moment, for streaming players to at least attempt to displace legacy pay TV players to a large extent,” he said. 

Now we need to see who might show up with a big enough check.

Less than a decade after it entered the media business through its acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo, Verizon

Communications reportedly may be preparing to exit the sector,

According to The Wall Street Journal, Verizon is “exploring” whether to unload its media properties, which could fetch a price of $4 billion to $5 billion. According to the newspaper, private equity giant Apollo Global Management

is part of the “sales process”.  A spokesperson for Verizon didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong gave up a golden parachute bonus to remain with the company 

when Verizon acquired AOL for $4.5 billion in 2015. He told The Wall Street Journal that joining forces with the biggest wireless carrier would “create what I think is the largest mobile and video business in the United States.”

Two years later, in a press release touting the company’s $4.48 billion purchase of Yahoo, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam crowed that the deal would put “Verizon in a highly competitive position as a top global mobile media company; and help accelerate our revenue stream in digital advertising.”

Both Armstrong’s and McAdam’s forecasts proved to be wildly inaccurate.

In addition, the combination of more than 100 million wireless customers and the 1 billion monthly visitors to sites such as Yahoo Sports, HuffPost, and TechCrunch never made much sense to many observers.  

The businesses’ ill-advised name of Oath was meant to communicate  Verizon’s long-term commitment to the media business, didn’t help matters. The sites accounted for roughly 3 percent of online ad spending, which is dominated by Google and Facebook.

“Yahoo and AOL, born during the age of desktop PCs hooked up to dial-up Internet connections, managed to capture more ad dollars but struggled to reach audiences that had shifted their attention to mobile apps,” The Journal said.

Armstrong reportedly left Verizon in 2018 after the wireless giant shelved plans for a spin-off of Oath with him as the CEO. In 2017, Armstrong laid out a “roadmap” to 2020 where the division would generate between $10 billion and $20 billion in annual revenue. His forecast was off the mark. Verizon Media reported 2020 sales of $7 billion.

McAdam retired as Verizon CE) in 2018. His successor Hans Vestberg ordered the media business to conduct a review of its operations. As a result, Verizon took a $4.5 billion write-down, effectively rendering it worthless. Verizon Media also eliminated 750 jobs, roughly 10 percent of the staff of both Yahoo News and HuffPost, 

 Verizon Media continues to shrink through job cuts and divestitures. The company agreed in November to sell its HuffPost news operation to BuzzFeed.  It unloaded the Tumblr blogging platform to the owner of WordPress for a nominal sum in 2019.

Demand for office space across the U.S. is climbing back closer to historical norms, throwing cold water on the argument that the pandemic could permanently destroy the country’s office culture.

“Any which way that we look at the numbers, there is tremendous momentum coming back into the office market,” says Ryan Masiello, cofounder and chief strategy officer of VTS, a real estate software firm. “I would say the perception is not the reality, where the perception is that the office is dead.”

On Wednesday, VTS published a report on the state of the national office market. Across the country demand in March was just 29% lower than average pre-pandemic levels for that month, a rebound from a 60% year over year decline in January. 

VTS, which sells management software to commercial landlords, measures demand by comparing office space toured by prospective tenants against the total amount of space covered by its software. The monthly report, which was first published last December, shows that while demand cratered 85% last spring due to Covid, it now sits just 9% lower than overall pre-crisis demand. The report projects a sentiment of “cautious optimism” for landlords and tenants that could push demand back to pre-pandemic levels if no major disruptions occur, such as a fourth wave of Covid-19.

The report aggregates data nationally and breaks out seven cities: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago and Boston. Seattle is leading the pack, with demand for offices rising 1% compared to historical averages for the month of March, driven primarily by technology companies. In New York City, demand is down 24%, while San Francisco is down 26%, and Chicago 31%. All of those cities had suffered demand declines of at least 50% during the pandemic—meaning the current figures show a significant uptick. 

The rebound is attributable to prospective tenants who held off searching for space during the apex of the Covid crisis, and by lessees simply seeking a good deal in markets that still have plenty of vacancy.

That is particularly true in New York, where there are 66 million square feet of unused office space in Manhattan alone, according to Cushman & Wakefield. The borough’s vacancy rate for offices in the first quarter stood at 16.3%, almost double what it was six years ago. Subleasing activity is also up, as long-term leaseholders seek to offload unneeded overhead. Those figures illustrate that increased demand still has plenty of inventory to eat through.

“It’s definitely a tenant’s market,” says Eric Anton, a broker at Marcus & Millichap in New York City. “If you’re a good tenant… you’re going to get a lot of free work, a lot of construction work from the landlord, and you also get a lot of free rent.” In some cases companies signing long-term leases are seeing one and a half years of free rent, along with other perks.

Finance is leading New York’s office recovery, accounting for a third of new demand, followed by technology firms, which account for 13%. The city’s rebound is not impacting all buildings equally; upscale properties with prime locations are faring better than mid-block, Class B offices, whose tenants have struggled to make rent over the past year. “It’s really a tale of two cities,” Anton says. Buildings situated close to public transportation also face better prospects, since workers are pushing for reduced commutes once their employers’ work-from-home policies end. 

Despite the positive turn, experts say a full national recovery will take at least a few more years. 

“My thesis is that we’re about to see a flurry of leasing activity over the next, probably, two quarters, but then the market will level out,” says Masiello. “It will probably be towards the tail end of 2023 or early 2024 before we get back to normalcy.”

If you had to pick one of the riskiest, most oppressive places for a journalist to exist and to try and function professionally, almost nowhere in the world is worse than China.

That’s according to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders, which ranks each country in the world on the basis of how it treats journalists. This year, for example, Norway is at the very top of the list, with RWB noting that the country has been ranked above most countries for years on the basis of its free speech and general democratic protections (the US, in contrast, comes in at #44 this year, right below Taiwan, as a result of the inexorable collapse of many local news outlets around the US, in addition to a disturbing and growing distrust in mainstream media).

China, meanwhile, can’t get much worse in terms of its horrible treatment of journalists. According to the World Press Freedom Index, only three countries treat reporters worse than China does — with Turkmenistan, North Korea and the African nation of Eritrea rounding out the very bottom of the list.

As far as the reasons for China’s placement near the very bottom, let’s start with the fact that state control of media in the country is pervasive, and all-consuming. Critics of the regime of President Xi Jinping, for example, are routinely rounded up and jailed, like dissident blogger Yang Tongyan and Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was seized as a political prisoner in part for calling for China to end its one-party communist rule. As a result of mistreatment in prison, Tibetan activist Kunchok Jinpa died earlier this year, while, according to RWB, more than 120 journalists and “press freedom defenders” are currently jailed in China — more than anywhere in the world, according to the press organization.

“By relying on the massive use of new technology, President Xi Jinping’s regime has imposed a social model based on control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens,” the latest World Press Freedom Index for China explains. “China’s state and privately-owned media are under the Communist Party’s ever-tighter control, while the administration creates more and more obstacles for foreign reporters. At the same time, Beijing is trying to export its oppressive model by promoting a ‘new world media order’ under China’s influence.”

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has also given China’s president Jinping an excuse to ramp up these practices even more. By way of imposing an even tighter crackdown on journalists during the pandemic, the country is still holding several journalists in jail for their coverage of the coronavirus crisis, along with hundreds of social media users who were arrested and at least briefly detained for sharing what the government deemed “false rumors” about the virus.

Then there’s the fact that the All-China Journalists Association, which purports to be a code of ethics for journalists in China, encourages reporters to “persist in arming the mind” with the orthodoxy of Xi Jinping and on “Chinese characteristics for a new era.” This crackdown on journalism also extends, by the way, to news that happens outside the country. Following Chloe Zhao’s Oscar win for Best Director on Sunday (for Nomandland), anyone who thought the reaction in her home country of China might at least be a little comparable to that enjoyed by Bong Joon-ho (the South Korea-born director who won that same Oscar last year for Parasite) was proven wrong.

News about Zhao’s Academy Award recognition was censored in China, per The Wall Street Journal, seemingly because of an old interview that re-surfaced following this year’s Golden Globes, an interview during which Zhao told Filmmaker magazine that China is a place “where there are lies everywhere.”

Chinese journalist Zhang Wenmin lamented how bad things have gotten in an interview with The New York Times

. “The space for free speech has become so limited,” said a woman who the Times pointed was once regarded as one of China’s “most feared journalists,” a reporter who regularly uncovered stories about wrongful convictions and police brutality, among other topics, around the country.

Under Xi Jinping, however, such fearless, independent reporting has become nearly impossible to do. Zhang told the Times that Chinese authorities shut down her social media accounts. And that she had to resort to living off of her savings, since outlets stopped publishing her work.

“We’re almost extinct,” Liu Hu, another Chinese journalist, told the Times about independent-minded reporters. Hu spent time in jail after reporting on political corruption. “No one is left to reveal the truth.”

Petaluma Pet Pals, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Petaluma, California, is fundraising to open Morti’s Used Book Nook & Adoption Lounge. The cage-free pet adoption center and used bookstore will be located next to their Great Stuff Thrift Store. The organization recently hosted an in-person fundraiser and is looking to raise $15,000 via GoFundMe, where they write, “We are looking to build a cage free adoption center where folks can come in and interact with the cats. There will be used books for reading and purchase.”

The used bookstore/cat lounge will be named after a baby kitten, Morti, short for Morticia, who passed away last year. The groups’s cat adoption coordinator Tanya Reyes told Petaluma 360 that the group has received many book donations, and will be looking for more, along with volunteers, in the fall. Petaluma Pet Pals President Shannon Frieberg said in the same article that the goal is to enable more cats to be adopted. “It would be a more stable program if we could streamline the adoption process. My dream was a cat café, but it cost too much. Tanya and I talked it over and she came up with the bookstore idea. We get a lot of books donated.”

The idea of helping people bring home a new pet along with a book isn’t totally new. Otis and Clementine’s Books And Coffee in Upper Tantallon, Nova Scotia, Canada, is also home to foster kittens courtesy of the local SPCA in need of adoption. Owner Ellen Helmke told the the CBC in 2019, “I thought it would be a fun thing to do and I thought people would enjoy it, but it’s turned out to be so popular. They jump on piles of books, they hang out on the albums, they sit on people’s laps, curl up on their shoulder. They run the place.” On the bookstore’s website, they state, “We have kittens from time to time,” asking customers to call ahead if that’s the reason for their visit.

Fat Cat Books in Tallahassee, Florida, is another used bookstore with a feline-inspired mission, and features multiple adult adoptable cats in a program run by the non-profit animal rescue group Feline Advocates of Leon County. Their website states that all their cats have been spayed or neutered and tested negative for feline leukemia and feline AIDS. “We do not discriminate with our kitties, we love them all; short hair, long hair, big or small. We also love our special needs kitties (such as Finn); every one of them deserves a chance at a loving home,” the site proclaims. The bookstore accepts donations, and charges $3 per paperback book and $5 per hardcover book.

My Cat Jeoffrey Bookstore and Cat Lounge is currently an online bookstore based in Arizona, with plans to open a brick-and-mortar store in Phoenix. The store bills itself as a non-profit “cat bookstore” which specializes in books for animal lovers. The store’s mission is to “get homeless animals adopted in an atmosphere that is more comfortable and home-like than a regular shelter, as well as to promote compassion toward and empathy for animals through literature.” Their website lists rescue groups with cats available for adoption in Arizona and elsewhere.

Elaborating on the bookstore’s goals, they write, “We seek to improve literacy and compassion through reading and writing by hosting therapy sessions where patrons can practice reading to an animal, and writing programs where young people can write a story about a favorite animal to be included in a published book.” The bookstore is named after poet Christopher Smart’s ode to his cat in the poem “Jubilate Agno.”

Bookstores and cats are a familiar pairing in many locations, so beloved that the Instagram account bookstorecats, which documents felines who dwell in or are frequent visitors to bookstores, has 23,000 followers.