How attacks on traditional media are having the inverse effect

01 Mar 2017  |  Raymond Snoddy 
How attacks on traditional media are having the inverse effect

The total craziness of Trump and the growing uncertainties surrounding Brexit could actually add up to the biggest boost traditional media has enjoyed in recent times, writes Raymond Snoddy

The place of former editor of the Sunday Times Sir Harold Evans in the history of journalism is secure. The man who created the Insight investigative team and exposed the Thalidomide scandal is someone who not only commands widespread respect for what he has achieved, but whose views on the contemporary state of the media are always worth hearing.

So when Sir Harold argues that we are in a “uniquely perilous time for journalism” - because of the rise of fake news and attacks on the media by the administration of President Donald Trump - naturally people pay attention.

Clearly something of importance is happening when in Trumpland journalists are described as the opposition and even enemies of the people and when in the UK judges are also denounced as “enemies of the people” in the Daily Mail because they dared to have a different view of the law than Theresa May and Paul Dacre.

Yes of course the situation appears perilous, even unprecedented in modern times, but what if the situation is the exact opposite of what it appears to be?

What if the total craziness of Donald J. Trump and the growing uncertainties surrounding the implications of Brexit actually add up to the biggest boost the traditional, existing media have enjoyed in recent times.

In the face of barefaced lies and noisy repetition of what is demonstrably false, is professional journalism about to enter a new age of opportunity where information that is true and valid will once again be valued by the public.

Instead of journalism in peril there could instead be a flight towards quality combined with a better understanding that painstaking investigative reporting has to be paid for and that there are limits to what you can get for free.

There might even at last be a better understanding that the unverified and often unverifiable information on social media could amount to a snare and a delusion.

The Oscar ceremony will be forever remembered for the accidental fake news that La La Land had won best picture.

But anyone keeping a careful watch on the ad breaks would have also seen the first television advertising that the New York Times has done for five years and its the first brand advertising for a decade.

The main copyline was very much to the point.

"The Truth is...Hard...Hard to find...Hard to know...More important now than ever," it went.

Trump’s attacks on the “failing New York Times” - the paper that carried the leaks on Trump’s lack of interest in paying tax - are probably the best thing that has happened to the paper in years.

New subscribers are signing up in the hundreds of thousands and are at a record 2.5 million and it's not just the New York Times; The Washington Post, the paper of the "grab 'em by the pussy" video, is up more than 70 per cent and the Boston Globe noticed a tripling of its new subscriber signings following the Presidential election.

Every word that comes out of the mouth of Donald Trump and his spokespeople produces not just another sparkling story but a further opportunity for the journalistic process of fact-checking.

“Obamacare covers very few people” President Trump insisted recently.

Actually, the press replied, more than 20 million have received health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Trump claimed that the Keystone and Dakota access oil pipelines would create 42,000 jobs.

Not exactly, say the reporters. Dakota is nearly built and Keystone is expected to create 3,900 construction jobs - a maximum of 16,000 temporary jobs on an annual basis. The permanent job count is actually 35.

And so it goes on with Trump the story that keeps on giving.

The latest twist and turn? Former president George W Bush insisting that the American people need answers on any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian Government.

That one could run and run.

It is entirely possible that before the Trump years in power are over “the enemy” may well be queuing up to cover Trump: The Impeachment.

There are already workplace sweepstakes in the US on when such a thing will happen - an American friend has placed his bet, perhaps a little optimistically, on nine months.

Will there be a Brexit equivalent to the Trump effect on the British media?

The slow-motion leaving of the European Union over the next two years will be a huge story, and if the opponents of Brexit are right, it will remain a story of continuing uncertainty and chaos for further years to come.

It will not be an exact replication of Trump in the US where the newspapers are indeed in effect turning into a near united opposition.

The UK media is much too split for that with the pro-Brexit press determined to keep the anti-EU propaganda going at all costs - preaching massaged information to the true believers whatever uncomfortable facts come down the line.

There should, however, be a significant boost for those publications which deal in facts and analysis rather than emotion and pre-ordained coverage.

The pro-Remain Financial Times has already seen a surge in subscriptions as its largely business audience try to work out what leaving will mean for them and their organisations. And the pop-up New European, the paper of the 48 per cent, is still with us as an example of innovation in publishing.

At the very least the gulf in fairness in the Brexit related coverage will continue to stimulate interest.

For The Times, which backed Remain, former Premier Sir John Major’s intervention in the debate this week was a perfectly arguable warning that the expected hard Brexit outside the single market would hurt those least able to protect themselves and could lead to the dismantling of the welfare state.

For the Daily Mail Sir John was “a vengeful doormat” who also managed at the same time to be intensely vain - one of the first known examples of vain doormats.

“Treachery of Remoaner Major,” screamed the Mail's headline.

Perilous times? Perhaps.

Interesting times? Certainly.

And maybe even the best of times for journalism on both sides of the Atlantic and just possibly better times for the funding of that journalism.

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RogerGane, CEO, OMG! on 1 Mar 2017
“I hope you're right Ray. The 'quality' press may be signing up new subscribers but the absolute numbers in relation to the populations of either the USA or UK are relatively small and if Trump can continue to short-circuit communication via rallies and Twitter, so can those politicians who wish to do so, over here. In both countries, a very large number of people have been struggling, and this isn't going to change any time soon. In the UK the inevitable continued austerity, exacerbated by Brexit (however 'hard') is likely to make the simplistic Trump-like remedies offered by UKIP and the libertarian wing of the Conservative party, more convincing that the arguments of the FT, Times or Guardian - which after all are the voices of the 'failed' political class despised by Trump, Farage et al.”
AliceButtling, Managing Director, Attinger Jack on 1 Mar 2017
“This is already having an impact on the circulations of a number of UK titles, all increasing - The Times, Sunday Times, Private Eye, The Week, The I - at least Brexit has brought about news, even if not good news, that highlights the value of our newspapers and journalists.”

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