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Data Sheet—Newspapers Ruled in the Days of Molten Lead

Katherine Graham, publisher of Washington Post, and Ben Bradlee, editor of the same, are shown. Bettmann Archive

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I had two favorite moments in The Post, the star-studded Steven Spielberg flick about the Pentagon Papers, which I finally saw this weekend. Before I get to them, I highly recommend this movie, and not just because it’s about the media (Manohla Dargis astutely relates in her New York Times review that the film “is about a subject that’s dear to the heart of journalists: themselves!”) or because it is a rousing defense of freedom of the press. (Confession: I was among those hissing in Davos Friday when first Klaus Schwab and then Donald Trump insulted the media.) It is also a well-told tale about speaking truth to power. And the outfits, rotary phones, and vintage televisions will bring a nostalgic smile to the face of anyone who remembers the early 1970s.

My first favorite moment has to do with technology. As the high and mighty as well as workaday hacks discuss whether The Washington Post should publish the documents it has acquired—spoiler alert: it does—men working on the actual printing presses prepare the molten led cast into letters using a process popularly known as “hot type.” The irony is dramatic: In a day of laughably old technology, newspapers ruled. Later computers took over, vastly reducing expenses for papers right up until those same computers effectively put them out of business.

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I also relished a line uttered by Tom Hanks in his role as Ben Bradlee, the legendary Post editor. Told that publishing could endanger the entire company, including the television stations The Post owns, he barks: “I don’t give a shit about the TV stations.” It’s a line anyone who has worked for one part of a company forced to care about another part of the company can relate to. (Not for nothing, my company, once famous for its fiefdoms, is about to be sold.)

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The proxy war between Alibaba and Tencent continues to heat up. Alibaba is taking a stake in the Chinese electric car company Xiaopeng Motors. Tencent also owns stakes in other auto concerns, including Tesla.

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In the weekend reading department, I enjoyed this take on Jim Kim, president of the World Bank and, as the Times article accurately portrays, a ubiquitous presence in Davos last week.

NEWSWORTHY

Two horse race. Who is winning the market for smart speakers with digital assistants? It’s not Apple yet, obviously. Amazon Alexa has a 69% share with an estimated 31 million units sold, trailed by Google Home with a 31% and 14 million units sold, according to surveys by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Last to know. After Intel learned about the security attacks possible on its CPU chips known as Meltdown and Spectre, the company initially notified major customers—including Microsoft, Amazon, and Lenovo—but not the U.S. government, the Wall Street Journal reported. Meanwhile, patches to ward off the attacks issued by Intel and others have been so buggy that Microsoft updated Windows over the weekend to disable the fixes.

Costly. Music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music will have to pay 15% of their revenue in songwriter royalties for the next five years (subject to other complex terms and limits), up from 10.5% over the past five years, under a decision by the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board.

Now we know. The mystery of why Japanese digital currency exchange Coincheck halted customer withdrawals on Friday has been solved. Seems the firm was the victim of a hack that stole about $500 million worth of cryptocurrency tokens.

Hard to believe. A memo authored by a National Security Council staffer and leaked to Axios has set off a debate in the wireless market. The memo purportedly details a plan for the federal government to build and own the next generation 5G wireless networks and lease it back to carriers for their use. Wait for the disavowal or denial shortly.

Data blunder. The fitness app Strava put maps online of its millions of users’ running and biking routes. That apparently revealed the location and layout of some classified military bases.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The darks arts of social networking involve fake followers, fake reposts, and fake likes. A team of New York Times reporters looked into one firm called Devumi that it says practiced the trade for well known celebrities and businesses (and the New York Attorney General says he’s looking into the matter). Devumi itself runs the accounts of 3.5 million followers on Twitter, the paper noted. They’ve turned up all over:

The actor John Leguizamo has Devumi followers. So do Michael Dell, the computer billionaire, and Ray Lewis, the football commentator and former Ravens linebacker. Kathy Ireland, the onetime swimsuit model who today presides over a half-billion-dollar licensing empire, has hundreds of thousands of fake Devumi followers, as does Akbar Gbajabiamila, the host of the show “American Ninja Warrior.” Even a Twitter board member, Martha Lane Fox, has some.

At a time when Facebook, Twitter and Google are grappling with an epidemic of political manipulation and fake news, Devumi’s fake followers also serve as phantom foot soldiers in political battles online. Devumi’s customers include both avid supporters and fervent critics of President Trump, and both liberal cable pundits and a reporter at the alt-right bastion Breitbart. Randy Bryce, an ironworker seeking to unseat Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, purchased Devumi followers in 2015, when he was a blogger and labor activist. Louise Linton, the wife of the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, bought followers when she was trying to gain traction as an actress.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Starbucks Chairman Schultz Rambles About Bitcoin on Earnings Call By Jeff John Roberts

Dell’s Possible IPO Sends VMware’s Shares Soaring By Jonathan Vanian

Disney to Air ‘Madden’ E-Sports Series By Chris Morris

Why Intel’s Stock Price Just Jumped 9% to Its Highest Price Since 2000 By Aaron Pressman

Here’s How Many Subscribers Shazam Could Bring to Apple Music By Don Reisinger

BEFORE YOU GO

The art world sometimes seems crazy. Take this auction of unique digital artworks, all verified using the blockchain technology behind digital currencies like bitcoin. One bidder paid almost $40,000 for Homer Simpson as Pepe the frog. Well, alright then.

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