One election result: Surge in demand for real journalism
Subscriptions soar at top newspapers in response to fake news crisis
November 30, 2016
This article is part of a Media Life series “Reinventing the American Newspaper.” Click here to read other stories in the series.
In the three weeks since the U.S. presidential election, The New York Times has acquired 132,000 new subscribers for its print and digital editions.
No, that’s not a typo.
The paper says that’s 10 times the rate of subscription growth it recorded during the same Nov. 8 to Nov. 28 period last year.
The timing is no coincidence.
Other papers, including The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, have seen similar (though not quite as big) subscription surges. Tronc says its dailies’ digital subscriptions have jumped by nearly a third in three weeks.
The underlying take-away: At a time when fake news has become rampant, the importance of high-quality newspaper journalism has never been more important.
It’s a much-needed vote of confidence for an industry that’s been suffering for years from declines in ad revenue and circulation but also in public interest.
Digital dilution of the print product
With the rise of the internet, which turned anyone with a social media account or a little WordPress know-how into a publisher, the appetite for and interest in a strong fourth estate had been greatly diminished.
It became unclear whether newspapers even still mattered – if, perhaps, people would decide getting news from BuzzFeed and Mashable and Hello Giggles was just as good.
Alas, many people can’t distinguish on Google News between a quality story and a fake news story of the sort running at the bottoms of so many news sites–the headline crafted to draw clicks (“Oprah’s Secret Children”) and a story with no facts behind it.
Indeed, the rise of fake news during the tail end of the election threatened to throw the country into an information crisis. It was hard to tell what to trust.
As the election drew to a close, an alarmed public came to realize how fragile the very notion of truthful reporting had become. What had been a given of public life for so long now seemed suddenly expendable.
Supporting a strong press became a rallying cry among many liberals disappointed by the results of the election. They tweeted and Facebooked and encouraged others to support The Times and The Journal and The Post and the others.
The effect has been to give new hope to an industry that’s seen a massive loss of public support in recent years.
A brighter future for real journalism?
The challenge now is for newspapers to build on that vote of support by reinvesting in editorial, hiring good reporters and editors.
The failure of many papers over recent years has been their loss of faith in their own mandate, drifting into their own form of clickbait journalism just to fill pages.
Newspapers, for all their woes, still have the best audiences of any medium. Readers still turn to them for news about their communities, if in fewer numbers.
There could be no better time for newspapers to deliver the real journalism those readers are looking for.
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