Week 26 & 27: The failing media says #ThanksTrump

You will be shocked to know I don’t pay the bills with this blog. Honestly, my husband covers most of our bills. Banker vs. writer is just never going to be fair when the cash hits the bank account.

So my paying job is mostly as senior editor for INMA (the International News Media Association). I started working for INMA when I was pregnant with my now college junior — almost exactly 20 years ago. I segment my time with this global media trade organization like this:

  1. 1997-2004 (or so): The Profitable Status Quo Years: Interesting enough. Media is my industry. Newspapers were doing what they were doing. Nothing to see here.
  2. 2008-2016: The Scrappy Years (I returned after a little break and just as my banker husband got laid off so, basically, the writer/editor saves the day): The recession knocked everyone on their asses. Combine digital + recession and newspapers were ditching budget items faster than banks. So much fun. Newspapers had to reinvent themselves in a million ways. Like a meth addict, management had to hit rock bottom to figure out what really mattered and how to get it done. Some companies didn’t make it. Those that did are innovative AF. Not perfect, but figuring it out.
  3. 2016-??: The Trump Years. This may be my favorite. Yes, The Scrappy Years saw lots of innovation in technology, focus on audience and digital, understanding that content was our unique selling point. But two things have happened since Trump’s election (and somewhat during his campaign): Real journalists have found their voices. And Trump’s #fakenews claims have made those of us interested in holding onto our democracy realize how important a free and trusted press is in that process. Paid subscriptions are up because the American people realize — finally! — that journalism is a big part of what stands between us and some crazy African dictator. And, as I said, many journalists are living up to that job description.

I spent 10 days recently at the INMA World Congress in New York City. Thanks to the 100+ hours I worked and 10 hours of sleep I got (I exaggerate slightly on the latter), I’m jazzed all over again about The Trump Years. I say “years” not necessarily because I think he’ll be president for years. But I do think he’s fundamentally changed journalism — at least for the foreseeable future.

Forgive the insider baseball I’m about to lay on you. But this is good stuff to know as a media consumer. Part of the World Congress involved two days of study tours. Every media entity we visited in New York mentioned Trump in some context. One media company called it the “Trump Effect.” Others used similar phrases when explaining the various reasons for an uptick in their 2016 success. We heard about lots of “Trump Effect” wins at the conference:

  • Vanity Fair saw an increase of 13,000 subscribers and 10,000 Twitter followers in ONE day when @realDonaldTrump tweeted his displeasure with the magazine.
  • The “failing New York Times” added 276,000 new digital subscriptions after the election.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s subscriber volume increased 300% the day after the election, proving this isn’t just a liberal/conservative thing.
  • Between the November elections and the end of January, subscriptions at The New Yorker increased 250%.
  • The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Guardian all set subscription records during that time frame, as well.
  • ProPublica’s donor list surged from 3,500 in 2015 to 26,000 in 2016, due in great part to “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver’s mention of it shortly after the November election.
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Why does Trump think the MSM hates him? 🙂

The CEO of INMA is Earl Wilkinson. Earl and I go way back to our college days. We met at a newspaper in East Texas when I was there for my summer internship. The newspaper had a “Women’s News” section. I’m old, but this was jacked up even by 1988 standards. Earl and I have come a long way from our East Texas days.

Earl described Trump as the “elephant in the room” as he wrapped up the conference, asking: “Where were you, last November, when you finally figured out, ‘Oh my goodness. This guy is going to be the president of the United States?'” Earl was in South Africa. I was in my living room in Dallas, wide-eyed and drooling in front of CNN, when he called. I’m not sure we got much past WTF, but it was therapeutic.

Fast forward five months:

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Earl giving his closing presentation.

“Of all the things I never thought I’d say,” Earl said in front of a crowd of 400+ international news media executives, “is … Donald J. Trump: Journalism savior. Didn’t see that one coming. Could this guy have allowed us to get our mojo back?”

One zinger from Earl’s speech, though: As unpopular as Trump is today, he’s more popular than news media.

Ouch.

I agree with Earl. MSM (as Trump likes to call us when he’s throwing shade our way) is better because of Donald Trump. It was a nice break to luxuriate at this conference in the that fact my industry is killing it right now with hundreds of people who love journalism as much as I do. The dream? At the end of all this, there is no President Trump. There is no Fox News With An Agenda. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are irrelevant. But I’ll settle for journalism kicking ass old-school. And people valuing it enough to pay for it.

Next year, INMA’s conference will be in Washington, D.C. “I kind of hope he’s still in office,” Earl said in his presentation. “But you never know.”

Regardless, The Trump Years have their benefits. Remembering that keeps me off the tequila shots while watching Jake Tapper in the afternoons.

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