During the Oscars on February 26, The New York Times released a television advertisement, its first in seven years and its first ever during the Oscars. The advertisement features black type on a white background and voiceovers all speaking on the same topic: the truth.
The voiceover says “The truth is our country is more divided than ever.” The narrator also mentions “alternative facts” and the travel ban, all hot button topics currently in the news.
Reactions to the advertisement have been mixed.
David Karpf, assistant professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University – who researches strategic communication practices of political organizations in America – was a fan of the ad’s simplicity.
“I think the use of plain black text on a white background worked well because it reminds the viewer of the Times’s core value,” Karpf wrote in an email to MediaFile. “The New York Times offers ‘all the news that is fit to print.’ The advertisement focuses the viewer’s mind on print, and reminds the viewer what the paper is good for.”
The day after the advertisement played during the Academy Awards, the President spoke exclusively to Breitbart and shared his thoughts on The New York Times as a publication.
“If you read the New York Times, the intent is so evil and so bad,” President Trump said in the interview. “The stories are wrong in many cases, but it’s the overall intent. Look at that paper over the last two years. In fact, they had to write a letter of essentially apology to their subscribers because they got the election so wrong.”
The President has frequently criticized the publication, often through relatively unsubstantiated claims about the “lies” it tells. He has also written over 50 tweets criticising the newspaper.
FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn't tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2017
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
Another negative response came from the National Rifle Association, which created a response ad stating, “The truth is that the truth didn’t matter to the New York Times then as much as now–because as long as liberals were ‘progressing,’ the truth was depressing.” This is a reference to former President Obama’s time in office, implying the the traditionally left leaning paper turned a blind eye in favor of a Democratic president.
“The times are burning,” the ad goes on to say, “and the media elites have been caught holding the match. Now they want your trust?”
NRA ad against the New York Times “The times are burning and the media elites have been caught holding the match” https://t.co/EtVNXlaFqg
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) February 28, 2017
While the President and the NRA are calling the ad a political statement, some are saying it’s a call for better journalism.
@CNN @nytimes pic.twitter.com/AtIIFR0tpu
— masonbo (@masonbo) February 26, 2017
“I don’t think the ad was a political message so much as a statement about the value of its journalism, and the importance of thorough, factual reporting in an era of so-called ‘fake news’ and attacks on the press,” Joe Pompeo of Politico Media wrote in an email to MediaFile.
According to New York Times branding executive David Rubin, Pompeo is correct.
“The idea is to be a part of that discussion about what does it mean to find the truth,” Rubin told CNN. “What does that mean in a world of ‘fake news’? And what is the role of journalism and journalists in that process and what is the role of the reader in supporting that journalism?”
Karpf agrees, saying that the ad was political – but not in the way the President and the NRA believe.
“The Times is defending itself, and (by extension) defending the critical role of the press in a well-functioning democracy,” Karpf wrote to MediaFile. “That is certainly political behavior, but it is not partisan politics.”
It could also lead to a big bump in subscriptions for the Times.
“The current political climate has clearly been a boon for them in terms of attracting new readers and subscribers, both in print and online,” Pompeo wrote to MediaFile.
“Trump is the best thing to happen to the Times’ subscription strategy,” Baquet said on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Feb. 26. “Every time he tweets it drives subscriptions wildly.”
The failing @nytimes writes total fiction concerning me. They have gotten it wrong for two years, and now are making up stories & sources!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017
With the changing times of journalism, digital subscriptions are more important than ever.
“Subscription revenue has become hugely important to the Times’ future, so we’re seeing a huge amount of the Times’ energy these days, both journalistically and from a business standpoint, going into convincing people that the Times is worth paying for,” Pompeo wrote to MediaFile.
The energy seems to be paying off. According to Fortune, during the Times’ most recent quarter, the paper added 276,000 digital subscribers and their digital ad revenue increased by nearly 11 percent – which accounts for more than 40 percent of its overall ad revenues.
“In other words, the digital side of the Times’ business is growing, in some cases rapidly, but it still isn’t contributing enough to make up for the ongoing decline in print-based revenue. And if the fall in print advertising is accelerating, that is going to make the math even harder,” wrote Mathew Ingram in Fortune.
While we don’t know the future effects of the advertisement on The New York Times’ subscription revenue, the media’s response to the ad has been relatively positive.
“I think that has reaffirmed their belief that the subscription strategy is working, and that there are a lot more potential paying readers out there if they can just get them on board,” Pompeo wrote to MediaFile. “That’s what this ad was about.”