Newspapers Savor New Role As Underdogs

After eight years of glad-handing and the occasional mild reproof from the Obama administration, the mainstream news media has entered a new phase in its relationship with the White House.

It is basically kicked in the nads daily -- and to their surprise, getting kicked in the nads is kind of fun! Well, maybe not fun, but definitely good for business.

Big newspapers are enjoying a resurgence of public interest and engagement, partly due to their adversarial relationship with the Trump administration, whose chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has termed them the “opposition party.”

In his campaign, Trump regularly unloaded on newspapers and other outlets that he considered unfair, frequently mocking them as “failing” businesses and suggesting that their financial woes were due to the loss of public trust.

That trend has continued post-inauguration, as the president frames his entire administration as a struggle against the dishonest news media. On Friday, the administration excluded several big news orgs, including The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, from a regular off-the-record briefing.

But as the media-savvy president surely recognizes, every time he mentions a news organization by name, he is also giving it free publicity. For the roughly half of the country that is dead set against him, these attacks are essentially glowing endorsements.

It’s not about changing anyone’s mind on either side, of course, but the attack helps rally the faithful, who are apparently more likely to shell out for a digital subscription now that newspapers are on the defensive.

That’s according to New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, who told CNN’s Brian Stelter: “We're not failing at all. In fact, our digital subscriptions are going through the roof. Even print subscriptions are up.  We're a profitable company. We're a newsroom that's hiring. I mean, we're a big, vibrant, important newsroom.”

Baquet returned to the theme later, adding that Trump has helped clarify the mission of newspapers.

“Trump is the best thing to happen to The Times subscription strategy. Yes. Every time he tweets, it drives subscriptions wildly. He also -- if I can say something he's accomplished, I think that there was a long time when the press wondered about its place in the society… Our mission is clearer than it's ever been, noted Bquet. "We're covering a dramatic revolution in government and how the country is governed.”

The Washington Post is clearly thinking along the same lines with its dramatic (possibly melodramatic) new masthead slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness.” While this may sound a bit self-aggrandizing, WaPo’s coverage has helped shake up the administration. It appears Vice President Mike Pence moved against Michael Flynn, now the former National Security Advisor, when reporting showed Flynn had not been forthcoming with Pence about his contact with Russian diplomats before Trump was sworn in as president.

In Britain, the pro-EU establishment may have lost the referendum on Brexit, but as a consolation prize it now has its own newspaper in print and online, The New European. According to editor Matt Kelly, the publication, which was originally planned by publisher Archant to be a “pop-up” newspaper, has established a steady circulation of 20,000 drawn to its wide-ranging coverage, which includes lifestyle and travel content as well as analysis and expert opinion.

Kelly tells Nieman Lab in an interview: “People have latched onto The New European with an unusual intensity. Obviously, people feel very strongly about this issue, and because we launched as a single-issue newspaper, we very quickly became seen as the voice for that community.”

2 comments about "Newspapers Savor New Role As Underdogs".
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  1. Tom Tyler from GCTVTexas, February 27, 2017 at 7:01 p.m.

    The NYT and WashPost won't even tell the truth about their own subscription padding. The WashPost is giving itself away for 99 cents (I get an email offer from them almost every day) and the NYt was already on a huge subscription promo before Trump took office. The NYT doesn't tell the Truth about anything, and its ads about "The Truth" truly are False and Deceptive Advertising. They are disgracegful.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 28, 2017 at 7:57 a.m.

    Yes, but how do newspapers stop the flow of ad dollars to other media? Even if they gain back some lost subscribers as a counter protest to Trump's nonsensical antics, that's not going to solve the long term problem---advertisers have been abandoning the medium and other sources of revenue---like ads sold on the newspaper websites-----are not, so far, the cure. Shame as newspapers are probably the most respected medium---by their audiences.

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