Legacy media, namely national newspapers and print-based magazines, on both sides of the pond have undergone a torrid decade.
Transitioning readers from print to digital while getting them to continue to pay for content has proved to be a very real struggle. And the rise of social platforms has meant that income from display advertising hasn’t proved as lucrative as the media companies had once hoped.
There are many technology providers looking to create solutions, especially around native advertising – Clarity boasts two clients in this space Anyclip and Adyoulike – but mainstream media, while not exactly on the ropes, would seriously benefit from a new sustainable business model.
Well it may have arrived in the unlikely guise of a certain Donald J Trump.
Subs and memberships are booming
The US, and indeed much of the world, may be split when it comes to both the man and the policies he intends to pursue, but there’s no doubt that the Trump phenomenon has given the media a serious shot in the arm.
Even before the election some papers were reporting significant growth in the number of people subscribing or joining a membership scheme. For example The New York Times saw a massive rise of subscriptions in October and now has aggressive plans for extending its subscription offering in the future. Meanwhile The Wall Street Journal has also reported a massive surge in subscribers. In the UK The Guardian also used the election to spearhead its membership campaign push by placing calls to action under many of its high-profile stories.
In fact there is a theory that is gaining momentum that the Trump administration might not just prove to be a golden age for the media, but it also might mean that growth that it is achieving could flower into sustainable business models.
Writing in the Nieman Labs blog Ken Doctor argues that we have witnessed one greatly ironic unintended benefit of Trump. Doctor reports that newspapers have taken on more staff and are assigning more resources to investigate journalism in a bid to hold the new administration to account.
However Doctor also adds “beyond “support,” readers clearly recognise value. They reward reporting, factual reporting, secure in the knowledge that certain news brands are more immune from the fakeries, forgeries, and foolishness than others. They see their own questions being answered with dutiful reporting and thoughtful analysis.”
He goes on to argue that local newspapers, for so long in a spiral of decline, are superbly positioned to keep checks on the way that the administration is working on a local level. He believes that “more Americans will pay more for a growing, smarter, and in-touch local news source if they are presented with one.”
The impact of fake news
Running in tandem with the mini-renaissance of legacy media is the phenomenon of fake news. Might it now mean that readers on both sides of the Atlantic are becoming much more wary of what they read online from news sources that they are not familiar with? Has the penny finally dropped that with the media, like most things in life, you get what you pay for? And expecting content for free has lead to a rise in disreputable sources and excessive use of clickbait stories and headlines?
It is less of an issue in the UK given that there is less fake news and there is also the BBC, a media organisation that most Britons would agree at least attempts to be fair and objective.
In the US it is different story and here is where The Washington Post, which is currently in the midst of major technological overhaul powered by Jeff Bezos’s millions, The New York Times as well as more traditional papers could benefit. Might American consumers finally be prepared to invest in newspapers to ensure that the media continues its traditional role of checking the administration?
Whether Doctor’s predictions turn out to be true remain to be seen. Whichever way you look at it though with a controversial figure in the White House who is already seemingly at odds with the established media, and a fake news phenomenon which is undermining trust levels of online sources, paid for media does have a golden opportunity to re-establish itself.
The PR industry needs a healthy and vibrant media to partner with, so let’s hope for a multitude of reasons that this is the case.