Harrison Connery, senior journalism major at Roger Williams University:
Jon Keller, political analyst for WBZ-TV, welcomed people to the New England First Amendment Coalition awards ceremony on Feb. 24 in Boston, saying: “Ladies, gentlemen, fellow enemies of the people — glad you could make it out today.”
Far from intimidating journalists with his attacks from the bully pulpit, President Donald J. Trump has lit a fire in the belly of the news industry. And ironically, his attempts to weaken the nation’s media could end up making them stronger.
Despite benefitting from over $1 billion in free media coverage during his campaign, President Trump has repeatedly slandered accurate news stories as made up, fake and dishonest. Two weeks ago, he went so far as to say that the media is the enemy of the American people. The president has also repeatedly attacked legacy media outlets, accusing them of being biased against him and on their way to ruin for their inaccurate reporting. Yet, thanks in large part to his behavior, newspaper subscription rates are rising for the first time in years.
The “failing” New York Times reported 132,000 new net subscriptions to their print and online publications in the two weeks after the election alone; that number spikes to 301,000 over the entirety of the fourth fiscal quarter. Moreover, during a three day period from Nov. 8-10, the Times website broke its previous traffic record. The Times, which has been a favorite target of the President’s, credits the rise in subscriptions directly to Trump’s attacks. It is also beginning to embrace its newfound confrontational dynamic with the White House. In an interview with CNN, Executive Editor Dean Baquet said: “Trump is the best thing to happen to the Times’ subscription strategy. Every time he tweets it drives subscriptions up wildly.” Times CEO Mark Thompson believes that 10 million paid online subscribers is a realistic goal for the newspaper. It now has just under 3 million subscribers. The Times ran its first television ad in eight years during the Oscars, making news junkies hopeful that the current consumer trends represent a turning point in the industry.
The New York Times isn’t the only struggling news outlet to report growth in recent months. The Los Angeles Times reported a 60 percent increase in digital subscriptions after the elections. The Wall Street Journal reported a 300 percent increase in subscriptions on Nov. 9. And CNBC’s parent company, Tronc, reported a 29 percent in paid digital subscriptions across its portfolio of publications.
Though The Washington Post hasn’t released specific numbers, Post publisher Fred Ryan said in an internal memo that subscription growth is up 75 percent and online traffic to its website is up 50 percent. The memo also claimed the paper is “growing and profitable.” And perhaps most encouraging of all, the Post announced in late December that it will hire an additional 60 journalists to its newsroom. Credit those 60 jobs to one Donald J. Trump.
The massive surge in subscriptions has had a trickle-up effect on the news industry: newspaper parent corporations are reporting a significant increase in the value of their shares. News Corp., Tronc, New York Times Co., The McClatchy Company, and the country’s largest newspaper publisher, Gannett Co., have all seen a rise in their stocks. Gannett stocks jumped 18 percent in the fortnight after the election. This may offset the damage done by a continuously diminishing stream of ad revenue, which has continued to fall despite the growth in subscribers.
The revival of legacy media comes at a particularly contentious time in its relationship with the political sector. Thanks to right-wing talk shows and President Trump’s false or misleading comments, traditional media outlets have lost credibility in the eyes of a large portion of conservative Americans, who harbor a visceral distrust of what they have dubbed the “main (or lame) stream media”. Recently, Trump has played to his base by banning the BBC, New York Times and CNN from a press briefing while allowing access to alt-right outlets Breitbart and the One America News Network. President Trump has been particularly vocal about critical stories published in recent weeks in the New York Times and Washington Post, fueled by myriad leaks from inside his administration.
During her keynote speech at the New England First Amendment Coalition event, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan said that, “During the campaign, [Trump] not only turned his raucous crowds against the assembled reporters — calling them scum and the lowest form of humanity, and then the lowest form of life — he also blacklisted news organizations, revoking their press credentials because he didn’t like their coverage. Once in office, Trump’s insulting rhetoric has only escalated.”
President Trump’s attacks on the press are meant to end it as an institutional check on his authority. But if he keeps it up, he might find that he’s only made it stronger.