Besides the death of Bill Paxton, one of the top stories from Twitter on Sunday involved The New York Times and Donald Trump. Again. If you’re anything like me, this was already old weeks ago, but the feud between the two appears to be a smart move for the NYT: newspaper subscriptions are growing.
To keep the feud going, the newspaper is running an ad, titled “The Truth Is Hard,” during the Oscars on Sunday. It’s their first television ad in 7 years, and it appears to be a direct response to the go-to “Fake News” label currently smothering everything people don’t agree with.
On Sunday morning, President Trump took to Twitter to put in his 2 cents about the ad.
For first time the failing @nytimes will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately & fairly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017
This isn’t the first time that the President has attacked the media, and it certainly won’t be the last. The question becomes this: Is it good for the media?
Weekday circulation fell 7% and Sunday circulation fell 4%, both showing their greatest declines since 2010. At the same time, advertising revenue experienced its greatest drop since 2009, falling nearly 8% from 2014 to 2015. Fully one-fourth of advertising revenue now comes from digital advertising, but not because of growth in that area: Digital advertising revenue fell 2% in 2015. It’s just that non-digital advertising revenue fell more, dropping 10% in 2015. In 2014, the latest year for which data were available, newsroom employment also declined 10%, more than in any other year since 2009. The newspaper workforce has shrunk by about 20,000 positions, or 39%, in the last 20 years. And three newspaper companies – E.W. Scripps, Journal Communications, and Gannett – are now one, reflecting a trend toward consolidation in the industry. Nevertheless, most of the newspaper websites studied here experienced growth in traffic, and mobile traffic in particular. Overall, however, the industry continues to shrink, with Editor & Publisher’s DataBook listing 126 fewer daily papers in 2014 than in 2004.
Reports from some newspapers at the end of 2016 show a change in this trend.
In December, NPR reported that online traffic to The Washington Post increased by around 50 percent during 2016, and subscriptions by 75 percent. Politico also reported that the company expected to add 60 journalists to its newsroom in coming months, with total growth of over 8 percent in personnel.
The end of December saw The New York Times receiving nearly 20 times the rate of new subscriptions they had in 2015. CEO Mark Thompson stated that in the 4th quarter of 2016 the NYT had “more net new subscribers in one quarter than we added in the whole of 2013 and 2014 combined,” and that as of February the company had reached a milestone of 3 million subscribers. At the same time, profit was down from 2015 by $48 million. It remains to be seen if the influx of new subscribers will continue and make up for other losses in revenue.
The Wall Street Journal saw a 300 percent spike in subscription volume the day after the election.
Even magazines are seeing some increase in subscribers in response to President Trump’s Twitter comments. For instance, Vanity Fair magazine saw a 100-fold increase in subscriptions after Trump attacked them over a bad review of Trump Grill.
But in an age where media distrust is high, with only 14% of republicans, 30% of independents, and 51% of democrats expressing a great deal of trust in the media, these are small signs in the view of the newspaper industry as a whole.
Newspapers must work against the “Fake News” cry now shouted in response to story after story, and they must work hard to show they are impartial and regain the public’s trust.
Right now only one thing is sure: President Donald Trump is giving the media a bump. Only time will tell if it will last, but it seems all the more likely if the industry can earn back the public’s trust.
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