Is this the presidential election that brings the US tabloid press into the mainstream?
Donald Trump supporters Rupert Murdoch, David Pecker and Steve Bannon are closely aligned with the campaign, betting that it pay off for the publishers, and hoping the election will change the US media landscape for years to come
First, the apologies for the question headline. We all hate these kinds of headlines, and the general rule is that if there is a question mark at the end of a headline the answer is inevitably “No”. Right?
But, in this case, I think it is a fair question.
As someone who has worked for both US and UK based media companies, I have always noticed the difference between the two media worlds. In the case of the US, where the largest circulation newspapers are the NYT, USA Today and the WSJ, the tabloid press is relegated to the supermarket check out line, and often categorized as magazines rather than newspapers.
Tabloid newspapers struggle in the US, even in NYC where Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman barely keep their titles alive (and at least one of them would like to sell out). Murdoch’s NY Post weekday circulation is now less than 250K, less than half it was a decade ago.
But in the UK, Murdoch’s The Sun leads the way. More Brits read the trashy tabloid than any other daily newspaper.
I’ve asked my friends abroad why the tabloids are so popular in the UK, and so relegated to the backwaters of distribution here in the US? The most common responses I’ve received were ‘well, you don’t understand the English.’
The last time I worked for a publishing company owned by a Brit I remember thinking that at any moment the FBI would crash through the doors and shut the whole place down as a criminal enterprise. To avoid this, the company continues to change its name every couple of years, and who knows if they are even still involved with the company today because their print magazines and websites have stopped listing management. (The poor editors, however, have their names revealed.)
But, of course, digital has changed things dramatically – all over the world. Many Americans get their news exclusively though the Internet, and websites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars have huge audiences. That these websites are now closely tied to a major candidate for the White House, one running neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton has to mean something, doesn’t it?
One might, in the past, have dismissed a cover like the one seen on the latest edition of National Enquirer, but the tabloid is not just a tabloid. David Pecker, CEO of American Media, is a close friend and supporter of Donald Trump. Look at that cover again and you will see that at the bottom it is mirroring the cry heard at Trump rallies. Lock her up!
For all the claims of media bias, this year there are segments of the media very closely tied to both candidates. While, in the past, Americans would not have felt that one could, or should, compare The New York Times or The Washington Post with National Enquirer or Breitbart News, this year the comparisons are fair – or, at least, they feel more fair.
Is the tabloid press now becoming mainstream in America? So far, in print the numbers don’t support that theory. But then again… digital, digital, digital.