Trump Sent the Public to the Media in Droves. Now What?

From a story on slate.com by Elena DeBré headlined “The Media Used Trump to Sell Subscriptions. Now What?”

Donald Trump aimed to drive public distrust in the media. He did a fair bit of that throughout his presidency, but he also sent the public to the media in droves. National newspapers and magazines capitalized on Trump’s rhetoric and used it to entice and secure subscribers. Subscriptions to major newspapers were on a slow rise before Trump got into office, but they noticeably spiked in the wake of the 2016 election. And Trump’s rhetoric certainly affected the way media outlets made their pitches to readers, too….

“The Trump Bump was real,” Rick Edmonds, a media analyst at the Poynter Institute, said. “And it was clearly a factor, though not the only factor, in the New York Times and Washington Post’s terrific growth in paid digital subscriptions.” Ken Doctor, a news analyst who runs Newsonomics, noted advertising that used targeted language about fact-checking Trump worked to build subscriber numbers….

When the president pounded the “fake news” drum, media outlets advertised their ability to bring readers the truth….Shortly after Trump assumed the presidency, for example, the Washington Post adopted the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” But it also advertised “Real Journalism Matters” on its subscriber page. The Intercept asked for support in 2017 by writing on its donation page, “Our reporters go to extraordinary lengths to bring you the evidence you need to challenge official lies and the distorted media narratives they produce.” In 2019, the New York Times asked readers to subscribe in order to “Help Our Journalists Get to the Truth.”…

And readers responded by clicking that subscribe button. The New York Times told Slate that they closed out 2017 with 3.4 million subscribers. By the end of 2020, and the end of Trump’s term, they had 7.5 million. Subscribers to the Washington Post tripled over the course of Trump’s presidency. The Wall Street Journal attracted about a million subscribers between January 2017 and March 2020. The Atlantic told Slate that it gained 400,000 new subscribers in 2020 alone.

When Trump left office, many pundits hailed the incoming Biden presidency as a “return to normalcy.” Yet for news, Edmonds ays, this has been “a return to, sort of, boring.”…

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported the smallest subscriber increase in over a year….The Washington Post revealed that their traffic “plummeted” in February of 2021. CNN lost 45 percent of its viewers across February and March…

Elena DeBré is a current student at Yale University and a former intern at Slate.

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