This just in: President Donald Trump is polarizing.
Some love him. Some hate him. Hate is a strong word, but they hate him.
There are probably some who are too busy watching “The Price Is Right” or rainbow-vomiting cat videos to care. But they still might make time to check in on Trump.
Regardless of your thoughts on his presidency, Trump’s effect on media has been fascinating to witness.
No presidential candidate more masterfully usurped the mainstream media’s system to create his own narrative. Unquestionably, this disruption – primarily through the 140-characters-or-less social feed Twitter – is a byproduct of Trump’s ability to demean the mainstream media and leverage social media to allow for direct communication with the citizenry.
The so-called Trump effect has been stunning with regard to a renewed interest in national news. What audience segment is growing the fastest?
A recent Pew Research Center study says that American women represent the largest-growing demographic of national news consumers. Trump has stimulated a wave of new interest in media and current events among women, despite his past comments about women that have drawn the ire of the left (and, frankly, some on the right).
The study suggests that 58 percent of American women say they are paying more attention to politics since Trump was elected. That same research showed that 63 percent of women who identify as Democrats have increased their interest in U.S. political news. Interest in domestic political news among women who identify themselves as Republicans is up 54 percent.
Overall, Trump’s presidency has increased U.S. interest in political news by 52 percent.
Former President Barack Obama compares in numbers, but not in impact. Obama has about 93 million Twitter followers – nearly 55 million more than Trump. Together, they are the two most followed politicians in the world, but the winner on impact is decidedly lopsided – and there is nobody in politics who’s even close to Trump.
Trump’s Twitter feed is hyperactive, rarely boring and often the root of stories that aren’t reported exactly the same elsewhere. He’s randomly on Twitter, occasionally around the clock. This began well ahead of the past election cycle, and hasn’t slowed down. Trump vowed nobody would take away his phone. Nobody has.
In a completely unscientific polling of people I know who are dialed into social media, there seems to be equal measures of left- and right-leaning followers who mind his feed. And people from all walks of life seem to speak of Trump with corresponding degrees of disgust and curiosity.
Set aside the messaging for a moment and purely consider the impact to media: He’s demonstrated that news can be a business-to-consumer proposition for politicians, following the path of entertainers Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.
Trump is cutting a new path in that regard – utilizing direct-to-market bursts of commentary to prompt behavior and create news narratives that the media is only too willing to follow. At its purest, it’s business-to-business communication.
He has, effectively, bypassed the permission of the press. He stays in the news by creating the news and discounts the media’s account of his story. Take a step back, and it’s difficult to argue that he isn’t setting the news agenda masterfully.
When you have the same tools as multi-billion-dollar media companies that could cloud your message, why bother offering the stories to them when you could skip the distributor and sell to the customer? Question Trump’s business acumen if you will, but his ability to promote and draw attention are changing the way that we think of presidential communication.
Since his election, which seemingly came against every legacy media prediction or poll, Trump has continued to be a boon to coverage of national affairs. If people didn’t care about national news in the smooth-jazz presidency of his predecessor, they care now.
And they are following.
Amid the otherwise awful news of decline of the mainstream press, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson told MSNBC in May that the company had added 308,000 digital subscribers in the first quarter (the company reports that is most in its history in a given quarter), and another 93,000 net subscribers in the second quarter. That was after the company reported that it increased by 276,000 digital readers in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Newsonomics author Ken Doctor reported in a May article for The Street that, “The Washington Post said that January generated more subscription starts than any other month, beating what had been a record-setting November, with the Post overall seeing ‘doubled digital subscription revenue in the past 12 months, with a 75 [percent] increase in new subscribers.’ “
The news will always matter.
Where you get it, how you get it, and from whom you get it, though, may matter substantially more.
Chris Krug is President of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.