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News brief: Twitter resignations, who will replace Pelosi?, Ticketmaster criticism

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Even more employees are leaving Twitter after billionaire owner Elon Musk issued an ultimatum - commit to being, quote, "extremely hardcore or quit."

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And this comes after he laid off half of Twitter's workforce and cut thousands of contractors loose shortly after taking over at the end of October.

FADEL: NPR's Shannon Bond has been trying to sort out the chaos and joins us now. Good morning, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: OK. So this feels like a question we've been asking a lot, but what in the world is going on inside Twitter?

BOND: Well, you know, you'll remember Musk said when he took over just last month, he wanted to shake things up. Now, over half the original staff and thousands of contractors are gone. But, look, Musk overpaid for this company, and he has all this debt to service, so he's under pressure to cut costs, increase revenue. This week, he told remaining workers that they had this choice - stick around the new, hardcore Twitter, work long, intense hours, or they could leave with three months of severance. And they had to decide by Thursday afternoon. And that time rolled around, and it appears a lot of people are choosing door No. 2. They're leaving Twitter. Many of these workers have posted publicly on Twitter under a hashtag #lovewhereyouworked - it's a play on a company slogan - and posting a saluting emoji, which has become this symbol of the departures. I should say that Twitter did not respond to questions about the turmoil. Its comm staff has been laid off.

FADEL: Well, it appears he's actually shaking things up. So what does this mean, if all these people are leaving, for Twitter's ability to function?

BOND: We don't have, you know, hard numbers on exactly how many people are left, but it doesn't look good. It appears the company is losing critical expertise and institutional knowledge about everything from how the site is kept online, protecting user data and privacy and handling toxic and illegal content. Earlier this week, I spoke to a contractor who was laid off last Saturday night with no warning. Her name is Melissa Ingle, and she worked as a data scientist.

MELISSA INGLE: I only found out that I was fired by - I happened to be looking at my phone at about 5:30, and I got a little pop-up that said, you've been logged out of one or more systems.

BOND: She worked on Twitter's civic integrity team, which works on election policy. And, you know, this is just one area where these layoffs and resignations and firings are worrying people, right? Because Twitter may be a small social network, but it's really influential. You know, politics, sports, business, entertainment, social movements in countries around the world all happen on Twitter.

FADEL: Yeah. So what does this mean for users? Are they feeling the effect of all this chaos going on inside Twitter?

BOND: Well, people are already acting kind of like it's a funeral. Like, it's almost like a wake for this site that's not dead yet. And also, I think it's really important to note, you know, to keep the platform safe for users, to keep a platform free of misleading content, illegal material, Twitter relies on a lot of people, including thousands of content moderators, who are almost all contractors. And if that workforce is reduced, that could compromise Twitter's ability to curb that content.

FADEL: That sounds bad enough business wise, but are there legal issues as well?

BOND: I mean, there are. You know, already, U.S. and European regulators are closely watching as Twitter could face big fines if they don't follow through commitments they've made to protect users. The chaos is already affecting Twitter's business. Big advertisers have halted spending. You know, that's how Twitter makes all its money, basically. And there's also the risk Twitter goes down and that it can't get back online because the people who know how to do that are gone. So Musk has promised a lot of big changes at Twitter. But at this rate, you have to wonder how many people are going to be left to make them.

FADEL: Wow. NPR's Shanon Bond, thanks so much.

BOND: Thanks, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Presidents have come and gone in recent times, and Nancy Pelosi has remained.

INSKEEP: She became speaker of the House during the administration of President George W. Bush. She guided the Affordable Care Act to passage in Barack Obama's time. She lost the gavel, then led her party back to the majority under Donald Trump and kept the majority under Joe Biden until now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: A new day is dawning on the horizon, and I look forward, always forward, to the unfolding story of our nation, a story of light and love, of patriotism and progress, of many becoming one.

INSKEEP: Republicans often demonized Pelosi, and last October, a man broke into her home and attacked her husband. But some Republicans saluted Pelosi as she announced her departure yesterday. Now the question is, who will lead the Democrats?

FADEL: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is here this morning. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: OK. So Nancy Pelosi's stepping down from leadership in the party at 82 years old. We just heard her say a new dawn is on the horizon. Is this about opening the door for younger leadership?

GRISALES: Yes. Before she announced the plan, she quoted a common biblical refrain that for everything, there is a season.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PELOSI: For may the hours come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect. And I'm grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.

GRISALES: And this marks the culmination of a deal Pelosi struck with her caucus nearly four years ago to step down. Of course, this comes after Republicans reached the threshold to flip the House next year.

FADEL: OK. So before we get to the next generation of leadership, this marks the end of a historic chapter in Congress. What kind of legacy does Pelosi leave?

GRISALES: Right. She became first speaker in 2007. That was the first time she entered that role. And she remained Democratic leader after her party lost the House in 2011 and regained the speakership back when they won it, the control of the chamber, again in 2019. And in remarks to her colleagues, she recalled a story of when her father was serving in Congress and she saw the Capitol for the first time as a 6-year-old.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PELOSI: I was riding in the car with my brothers, and they were thrilled and jumping up and down and saying to me, Nancy, look, Nancy, look, there's the Capitol. And I keep - every time I'd say, I don't see any capital. Is it a capital A, a capital B or a capital C?

GRISALES: And she said she believed then, as she does now, that it was the most beautiful building in the world because of what it represented - a temple of democracy, of the Constitution and, quote, "our highest ideals." She was first elected to Congress to represent her San Francisco district in 1987 and moved into a leadership role as Democratic whip in 2002. Over time, she built a reputation as a master legislator and a master strategist, pushing through landmark legislation.

FADEL: Now, she's not the only one in leadership stepping down. What does this mean for the next generation? Who assumes leadership roles now in the next Congress?

GRISALES: Right. So following her announcement, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and whip Jim Clyburn said they would also follow suit and step down. So now a new generation of leaders are lining up. That includes New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries as the front-runner to replace Pelosi as Democratic leader. And if so, he would become the first African American lawmaker to lead the party in Congress.

FADEL: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Millions of fans love Taylor Swift, and it's safe to say that millions do not love Ticketmaster after it stopped the release of early tickets for Swift's new stadium tour.

INSKEEP: People were kept waiting online for hours, only to come away with nothing. And then Ticketmaster canceled sales to the general public, which was supposed to happen today. This is a subject on which Americans want government intervention, apparently. Some state attorneys general are investigating. And Senator Amy Klobuchar, who heads a Senate subcommittee on consumer and antitrust issues, says she's going to hold hearings.

FADEL: Anne Steele is a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, and she's been covering this. Good morning, Anne.

ANNE STEELE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: OK, Anne, so it's not exactly a surprise that a whole lot of people wanted Taylor Swift tickets. So why wasn't Ticketmaster ready?

STEELE: Definitely, definitely not a surprise. This is one of the most hotly anticipated tours, particularly coming out of the pandemic. Taylor Swift is one of the biggest pop stars in the world. You know, it's been five years and five albums since her last tour. And, you know, she signed up for this program with Ticketmaster. But in this case, you know, they handed out 3 1/2 million fan codes, and many more fans than that tried to come to Ticketmaster on Tuesday, and not just fans without codes but also bots as well and scalpers and that type of thing. So when all was said and done, she had a record-breaking day. Over 2 million tickets were sold on Tuesday alone for the first pre-sale for fans. But many, many more millions of fans were trying to get tickets and upset that they couldn't.

FADEL: And a lot of people were angry. And as we heard Steve say, this whole fiasco is getting the attention of lawmakers, attorneys general. Is this because of Ticketmaster's monopoly on ticket sales? What's angering everyone?

STEELE: That is what lawmakers and officials are saying. You know, they're saying that Ticketmaster's power in the ticketing market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically would make companies compete and improve their technology and that type of thing. So Ticketmaster's position as the largest ticketing company that has lots of exclusive ticketing contract with most of the venues in the country - and then also as a unit of Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter - Ticketmaster is a behemoth with really little competition in the live event space. And so that can - you know, as Senator Amy Klobuchar said, that can result in dramatic service failures. And consumers are the ones that end up paying the price and not getting tickets.

FADEL: Has Taylor Swift said anything about this?

STEELE: She has not, but we will wait to see what she's going to do because the general on sale to the public for Friday, it was called off. And we think there might be some tickets left. We're not sure how many. There's obviously many more fans than tickets available, but we think there are still some tickets left, and those are going to have to be distributed somehow. So we await the plan from the mastermind that is Taylor Swift.

FADEL: I wonder if anyone at Ticketmaster singing (singing) it's me. Hey, I'm the problem. It's me.

Are they saying anything? And what are Swift's fans supposed to do about getting tickets?

STEELE: So Ticketmaster is not saying that this is a problem internally. They're saying this is a situation of unprecedented demand, and, you know, the system was overwhelmed. But, you know, in their mind, it's a record-breaking day. So we'll have to see what happens going forward.

FADEL: That's Anne Steele with The Wall Street Journal. Thanks, Anne.

STEELE: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.