Donald Trump Is the Media’s Best Friend
May 5, 2017
By Mark Behan
President, Behan Communications Inc.
Donald Trump may be the best friend the news media ever had.
He is the villain of their dreams – the 800-pound, orange-haired gorilla they needed to find their voice at long last, solidify their audience and political base, boost viewership and circulation, and pump their stock prices.
Fake news? Failing New York Times? Dishonest media?
It’s been good for business.
President Trump’s attacks have been a branding bonanza that, despite protestations, the media have recognized and are taking to the bank. Without him, there would be no “Support the Mission of The New York Times” advertising campaign, no “Democracy Dies in Darkness” ads by the Washington Post, and no claim to “America’s Most Trusted Newspaper” by The Wall Street Journal.
His attacks have forced media organizations to embrace their core audiences – something they should have done on their own a long time ago – and it’s paying off.
CNN had its best quarter for viewership since 2003, and it’s not alone. Viewership is up at Fox News, of course, but it’s also up at MSNBC. Circulation is up at The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
Media stocks generally are up – perhaps as part of the broader “Trump rally,” perhaps in expectation of changes at the FCC.
Historically, presidential campaigns and inaugurations have been good for circulation, viewership and ad revenue. But there’s more going on here than the ordinary public interest in politics. By taking on the media directly and relentlessly, President Trump has become the threat – the very helpful threat -- that media heretofore lacked.
Trump’s jabs hit home. For some, he accurately captured their dark view of national journalists as elitist, biased, arrogant, out-of-touch and skeptical of all power but their own; for others, he posed an immediate, existential threat to press freedom and democracy. The relationship is symbiotic: With each new attack, media organizations’ ties to their audiences have been strengthened, as President Trump’s have been to his. Polarization may not be great for progress, but it has helped media organizations profitably consolidate their audiences, Fox News with its audience of conservatives economically left behind and fed up with unresponsive government, and The Times with upscale, educated, urban progressives.
The media’s improving fortunes are not President Trump’s doing alone. They’ve had a great tailwind. The first 100 days are a newshound’s dream, and just as important, many news organizations including the ones I’ve mentioned have made truly impressive leaps in the quality of their digital and print reporting and storytelling. Their products are as good as or better than they’ve ever been.
So for now, the era of bad feelings is good for both the President and the Press. As much as journalists detest being called “enemies of the people,” taking flak from the White House seems to be paying off for their employers. This won’t last; the relationship between President Trump and the media is likely to deteriorate into a long, cold, boring war. But perhaps major media organizations can now parlay the Trump Bump into a sustainable business model based on a true, tight alignment to their audiences.