Trump’s Holiday Gift to the Media: New Subscribers

Despite President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated claims (of course, via his Twitter account) that the New York Times is “failing,” the newspaper has actually been experiencing historic surges in paid subscriptions since election day. According to CNN Money, the Times has seen its largest subscription increase, in the month following the election, since 2011. Yet, foregoing any attempt to clarify his statements, Trump has also falsely stated via his personal Twitter account that the Times was “losing subscribers.”

Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor, told CNN that Trump’s statement is incorrect and attributed the massive increase in subscriptions, as of late, to simply sticking to authentic and solid reporting. “It pays to do real news at a time when there is so much fake news around,” Baquet said.

Baquet’s claim is relevant in a news environment that has seen a dramatic increase in fake and explicitly biased sources in the past year, primarily shared through social media. Even Hillary Clinton has gone as far as to warn the public of the dangers fake news. During a ceremony recognizing retiring senate minority leader Harry Reid, Clinton asserted that, “it’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences.” Clinton was referencing the so-called “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory propagated by a fake news story that a Washington pizzeria was harboring a child sex ring. A man, who read the story, recently walked into the restaurant and fired an assault rifle.

The Times’ CEO Mark Thompson noted, at a conference in New York on December 5th, that the Times expects to add 200,000 subscribers this quarter almost entirely due to a post-election boost. At the same conference, Thompson also stated the Times’ goal to double digital revenue by 2020.

However, the Times isn’t the only news outlet that’s been experiencing a post-election surge in subscribers. ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet, received a surge in donations after “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver encouraged his viewers to consider financially supporting quality journalism. While ProPublica typically only received a few donations per day prior to the segment, it is now experiencing its own surge in donations.

“You need to support actual journalism by buying a subscription to outlets like The Times, The (Washington) Post, your local newspaper, or donate to groups like ProPublica, a nonprofit group which does great investigative journalism,” noted Oliver in the segment.

On election day, many other news outlets such as The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times took down their paywalls, allowing all users to access their content without paid subscriptions. While these outlets took this step to gain a competitive edge in traffic over other outlets, maintaining the paywall also proved successful for some outlets like The Wall Street Journal, which saw double the increase in paid subscribers after election day.

“Call me old-fashioned, but if your business model is to say ‘we are a paid-for, subscription-driven business,’ changing your mind willy-nilly is not a consumer-focused decision,” said Wall Street Journal chief customer officer Katie Vanneck-Smith, discussing the paywall decision. With a post-election boost of its own, the Journal now has almost nearly one million digital subscribers.

In addition to the online news election day frenzy, The Atlantic and The Guardian also saw subscriptions rise. The Atlantic’s website garnered subscriptions at 160 times the normal rate, and visitor traffic to its website has doubled. Similarly, The Guardian’s U.S. editor Lee Glendinning sent out an e-mail encouraging the support of the outlet after Trump’s victory, and in turn, saw membership increase 25 times.

Ultimately, the boost in subscriptions to these outlets inspires hope that audiences are turning to sources of real, ethical reporting. Even though there was once a trend of loss in print subscribers and advertising revenue for national outlets, this flock of new subscribers provides a light of hopefulness in facing a new administration, and often an audience, questioning the strength, accuracy, and fairness of the press.

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