Commentary

The Flailing Donald Trump

It wasn’t the first time Donald Trump referred to it as the “failing New York Times,” but there is something about him doing it now, as President Elect, that seems, well, un-Presidential. And if you ask me, a little reckless.

Now that he is the most powerful man in the world, Trump is making it clear he will use the power of his office to neutralize any opposition, including unflattering scrutiny by the news media. 

He is starting with one of the most credible sources of journalism that could actually threaten his authority.

The worst part of the statement isn’t that Trump used it to make a public display of his power over the media by canceling an on-the-record briefing with the paper, before eventually agreeing to it again.

Or that it followed meetings in which he thumbed his nose at the nation’s TV news networks.

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The worst thing about his dismissive tweet of the “failing New York Times,” is that it is true.

It isn’t failing in its journalistic mission. It is failing because the economic model that used to support its kind of journalism is failing.

And that is also the reason it is reckless for the President Elect to marginalize the “failing New York Times” the way he marginalized political opponents with his brilliant use of neurolinguistics, his social-media skills and his constant, incessant repetition, whether it is “crooked Hillary, crazy Bernie, low-energy Jeb, or the failing New York Times.”

In the weeks since the election, I’ve consoled friends, family, and anyone who would listen that the great thing about American democracy is that as powerful as the presidency is, we still have checks and balances to keep it in check.

At a time when Trump would seem to have control over two of the three branches of government, and is likely to have a fundamental influence over the third, it is more important than ever that Americans have unfettered access to information about the way the country is being governed.

You know, the un-fake news kind of actual journalism.

The kind that keeps us informed so we can make better decisions about exercising the checks and balances we have as citizens: the right to protest, to assemble, to express ourselves, and especially to vote.

Yes, Trump ultimately conceded to an on-the-record interview, which is published in today’s Times, but not before he snubbed the paper, bitch-slapped the TV news networks and demonstrated how he can bypass the mainstream media altogether by going straight to the American public via YouTube.

In one of his first acts as President Elect, Trump is saying America’s free press won’t be completely free. That only the media that delivers his message in the way he wants it delivered will have free and open access to him. We already know what kind of media that will be: the kind he controls directly.

I’ve written how Donald Trump is the political equivalent of a New Establishment brand. Now he wants to disintermediate one of the few things that can check his power. Why is this a story for MediaPost?

Because it is a story about the changing economics of media, and the impact it has on every facet of the communications marketplace, including the electorate.

Last month, MediaPost collaborated with Bob Garfield and Wharton on our second annual Media Future Summit. The event was off-the-record, so I cannot tell you explicitly what anyone said, but I can tell you that every conceivable economic model for sustaining and strengthening the role of the news media was explored: everything from altruistic models like donations and philanthropy to micropayment systems, commerce and native advertising.

I can also tell you there were no clear answers, but a lot of concern that the economic models that have supported journalism for the first couple of centuries of America’s democratic experiment may no longer be sustainable. Those, of course, have been advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales.

What’s a newsstand, you ask? Scratch that one.

In terms of subscriptions, I must confess that I, too, am among the post-Internet masses that have considered the Free Press a little too free.

I have justified that because good journalism like TheNew York Times’ is expensive, and the only journalists who may be more economically challenged are trade ones like me.

But after years of being a lapsed subscriber, I just renewed my subscription to TheNew York Times. Not because the paper needs me, but because I need the paper. If you ask me, we all do.

So if you’re one of those who have been sitting on the sidelines, I would encourage you to pony up and subscribe, if not to the Times then the newspaper of your choice, perhaps your local one.

Let’s make American journalism great again. Lord knows, we need it now more than ever.

11 comments about "The Flailing Donald Trump".
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  1. David Dowhan from TruSignal, November 23, 2016 at 10:32 a.m.

    Good points Joe - Couldn't agree more and when publishers are under tremendous financial pressure - it's the entire industry that is under attack. Please encourage all of your friends and family to subscribe and pay for REAL news like NYT, Washington Post, et cetera. It doesn't matter if you're red, blue or purple - just lend your financial support. Of course you will not agree with everything they have to say - but that's the point, isn't it? We need a strong, free press to challenge our thinking and provide an unvarnished truth of the facts.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, November 23, 2016 at 11:09 a.m.

    You seem to have completely forgotten Jim Rutenberg's August 8 column in the New York Times where he opined that a new journalistic mission might be needed to defeat a "dangerous" candidate. So your argument that the mission has not failed is a little short on memory. Go read it and see if I am overstating my case:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/business/balance-fairness-and-a-proudly-provocative-presidential-candidate.html

  3. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, November 23, 2016 at 11:42 a.m.

    @Doug Ferguson. Well journalism is a broad descriptor encompassing both news reporting and opinion-based commentary. I believe Rutenberg's column falls under opinion, not news journalism, per se. The New York Times publishes a variety of opinion-based commentary reflecting lots of points of view, some from their staff, and some from outside contributors. I believe the mission of journalists is to inform the public with as much truth as it can gain access to. I never said it has failed. I said that the economics supporting that mission have been failing. But if it does fail, I think democracy will suffer because there will be one less check-and-balance and a less informed society.

  4. Michael Pursel from Pursel Advertising, November 23, 2016 at 11:57 a.m.

    I of course disagree.  Because of an obvious slant to the left Joe, you read the NYT and find agreement between their stance on news, and your beliefs.  I, on the other hand, look at life from a conservative viewpoint, and see the NYT for what it is, another Legacy Media in the tank for the progressives. (NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, as well)  Do they cover stories that flatter or support conservative beliefs? Sure. On page 175, right next to the lost dog classifieds.   NYT, WA Post, LA Times.. I'm surprised these are going down, when they are based in the middle of Progressive Heaven.
    Does not bother me in the least bit.  People obviously are not lead by the leash of info delivered by the NYT and others who slant the stories to further thier own agenda's. Welcome to the world of Trump folks.  New York Times:  Either be a NEWS paper, with opinion on the proper page, and not throughout the whole publication, or state that you are a propaganda tool of the left and be honest about it.

  5. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, November 23, 2016 at 12:13 p.m.

    @Michael Pursel: I do read the New York Times, but I don't personally consider it to have a slant to the left. I just consider it to be a high standard of journalism. I do read other publications too, some of which you may consider to be a conservative point of view. My argument here isn't for lefty or progressive journalism, per se, but good journalism that informs the public about the way they are being governed -- regardless of who is governing them, left, right, up or down. My arguement is it is dangerous for the president to try and undermine freedom of the press, and that it comes at a time when economics are also doing that, hence the truth in Donald Trump's "failing New York Times" rhetoric. I think the most presidential thing he could do is to support freedom of the press, not try to undermine it. Personally, I want to support the New York Times, but the most important thing is that we have an independent and free press that can report on the way we are governed.

  6. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, November 23, 2016 at 12:56 p.m.

    Tragically I am sure The NYTimes would provide real evidence of some remarkable parallels between Trump's "handling" of the press and how the press was treated during the evolution of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. I am sure Mr. Pursel would call me a "socialist" for such remarks but like Bernie Sanders I am best described as a "social democrat". Isn't it about time Amercians understood the significant difference?  The editorial staff at the NYTimes understands the difference as does Joe Mandese. But they  reflect honest journalism and will not run from reporting the  facts.   

  7. Alvin Silk from Harvard Business School, November 23, 2016 at 4:45 p.m.

    Thank you Joe-- for your wise and timely counsel that deserves to be heed and heeded in this troubling period of uncertaunty/

  8. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, November 23, 2016 at 5:52 p.m.

    Is there any way that one of the critics of the NYT, who say that paper is "left-leaning" in their news articles, could cite specific examples?  Please note that I do not mean columns, commentary, op-ed pages or anything other than hard news reporting.  

    I'm asking since there have been so many such criticisms, but I have never seen any actual citations, again from actual NYT news articles, presented as evidence to back-up those criticisms.  I read the NYT fairly often, though not daily, but I must be missing whatever it is those critics are seeing.  Some help would be appreciated.  And I mean actual help, and not the usual; "Well, just READ it!"

  9. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, November 24, 2016 at 9:46 a.m.

    Joe I know very little about the broader business of journalism, but I do know how to make money selling advertising and the core reason why display advertising hasn't worked well on premium publisher sites for years, is because from the very beginning we launched the wrong model -- selling impressions instead of a total audience -- to compound this problem we sold multiple ads on each page to multiple advertisers so when an advertiser visited a premium publisher's site and saw that mess they saw no value in the ads they bought -- had we limited each page view to ONE advertiser and had created a roadblock model where advertisers bought the site either by day, by week or heck even by hour, we would have solved the supply problem that has plagued online advertising from day one -- these would have been simple fixes that would have helped the "ad revenue" side of this equation -- getting people to pay a subscription -- I got no words of advice on that part -- I am just an ad sales guy.

  10. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network replied, November 24, 2016 at 6:38 p.m.


    How does a news story "flatter or support" a conservative, or a progessive, belief? ... Maybe something like; "Tour bus plunges into Grand canyon. No Republicans reported aboard."

  11. Michael Lisboa from Pixt.Us, November 26, 2016 at 4:16 p.m.

    Ari, online advertising began in 1993. Technology was not sufficiently advanced at that time to sell by "audience." Nor were there any steadfast rules in place. We pretty much shot from the hip and made up a lot of the rules that are in fact still in place today, although many have been updated. When estimating audiences eventually even became a possibility, it was not "science" by any means, only really loose approximations. No advertiser would spend money on iffy approximations. The answer was to track after-click interaction with ads and that only became possible in 1998. I don't think you were even in the online world at that time. In any case, you can probably appreciate that things might have been different had traditional marketers jumped onboard from the beginning, but the mad men of Madison Avenue thought the Internet was just a passing thing. They were late to dinner, about 5 to 6 years late and then struggled to keep up. It's easy to come up with solutions after the fact, but wiser to look at history first. 

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