Media reporters start beating up on their industry, an industry they don’t seem to understand
Last night’s election will have serious repercussions for the economy, world order, and more, but it would be wrong to say that ‘the media’ missed the story, because the alt-right media had it nailed from the beginning
The great thing about being a publisher or media owner is that every once in a while one gets to tell their editors or reporters that they are wrong. This morning the accepted wisdom among media reporters is that, in the words of The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, “the media missed the story.” She is wrong.
The media didn’t miss the story. It got it right, and even much of the establishment press got the story right. If journalists want to beat themselves up over last night’s election they are entitled to do so, but they would be wrong.
The fact is that much of the media understood that Donald Trump would win. They supported Trump, wrote about him daily in the most flattering terms, and last night cheered his victory.
The thing is that “the media” that did so was not the NYT or WaPo, MSNBC or even Fox, but the large and growing segment of the media that services those that think “the media” is the enemy, that it lies, that it was in the tank for Hillary Clinton. But Breitbart News, InfoWars and other alt-right sites are part of “the media” – now it is the media of the party that controls all three branches of government. It is, in other words, the establishment media.
Of course, journalists don’t like to consider this part of the media landscape inhabiting the same world they work in. But that is where they “missed it” – it has always been part of the media landscape, the place many journalists go when laid off from their newspaper or magazine. In the past, journalists would end up writing press releases or celebrity books, today some write about jailing opposition politicians, and deporting immigrants. It is a paycheck, after all.
Few like to directly attack Fox News – after all, Rupert Murdoch was still hiring. But no more.
News Corp is in the red, just as many other news organizations are. If writing for the NY Post isn’t in the future of those being let go by Gannett or MediaNews Group, journalists will find that there are other alternatives, some they didn’t seem to know even existed.
No, what I believe many in the media missed was the idea that there was a mass market for quality journalism. I’ve never believed it.
As, first an ad manager, then circulation director, I could see the household penetration numbers of our newspaper and could see that I could never honestly claim that we were reaching every household. But we were reaching those who wanted a quality newspaper, and so the sale pitch to advertisers was that we reached those who could buy their products and services, without much “waste”. That “waste” still consumes media, just not newspapers.
But even if you were say that the only real media is the legacy press, I still don’t it would be right to say it “missed the story.” It saw the huge crowds at Trump rallies… and were horrified by the language both of the candidate and his supporters. The NYT and other news outlets did not ignore the story. In fact, those that prefer Breitbart to the NYT saw that the paper was covering the story, they just didn’t like the fact checking and opinion pieces.
Where things went wrong was when cable TV outlets used Donald Trump as cheap programming, airing his rallies live, for hours at a time. Trump never needed paid advertising because he got it for free. CNN, I might add, was not alone in this.
If, as Margaret Sullivan said, “didn’t take them seriously,” meaning the Trump voters, that is really her fault – I can guarantee you that Steve Bannon did, and he is a media executive. Like it or not.
So, we stop this meme about the media right here and now, and start understanding who our products are designed to serve, and do a better job of building a business around it.
For the past decade newspapers have been run by executives who believe in paid content and the result has been neither a better newspaper, nor a more profitable one. For decades we were told that mixing the business side and the editorial side was wrong, but now it is standard operating procedure. Journalists run the business side, they jumped over the wall that separated editorial from business, then denied that they had done so.
I know I am in a minority in this view. The prevailing view is that the side of the business that for years drove the revenue must be jettisoned so that we now have readers foot the bill. I get it. Advertising is said to be going away (by those who have no ad background on their resumes, I might add).
I can tell you that there are enough readers out there to build the kind of newspaper these executives dream about, but they will have to lure the Trump voter to get there. If that is what they want to do then they will be in direct competition with the Breitbart’s of the world – and they will likely lose a large percentage of their current readers.