Newspapers aim to ride 'Trump Bump' to reach readers, advertisers

Thu Feb 16, 2017 3:55pm EST
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By Jessica Toonkel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Trump administration's combative view of traditional news media as the "opposition party" and "fake news" is turning out to be the best hope in 2017 for newspapers struggling to attract more digital readers and advertisers.

The New York Times (NYT.N: Quote), the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and Gannett Co (GCI.N: Quote) are building on the online readership they gained during the 2016 presidential election by marketing unbiased reporting as a sales strategy.

The risk, however, is whether those new readers will attract advertising dollars to the newspapers, some of which have been criticized for having political leanings. An Edelman survey of more than 33,000 people in 28 countries shows trust in the media is at an all-time low at just 35 percent.

So far, there is reason for optimism among newspaper executives and investors. The New York Times, which President Donald Trump has referred to as "failing" in his Twitter messages, added a record 276,000 digital news subscribers in the last quarter and sees digital ad revenue up 10 to 15 percent in the current quarter. The company said it expects to add 200,000 digital subscriptions to its news products in the first quarter.

The Wall Street Journal added 113,000 digital subscriptions in its latest quarter, an almost 12 percent jump. The company said that January's numbers were even higher, but it declined to provide figures.

Financial Times digital subscriptions jumped 6 percent in the fourth quarter to 646,000, while digital subscriptions at the 109 local newspapers across the country that make up the Gannett's USA Today Network, grew 26 percent to 182,000 in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile USA Today, which is part of the USA Today Network, and not subscription based, saw revenue grow 1.4 percent, the company said. It said 68 percent of USA Today's advertising revenue in the fourth quarter came from digital.

In addition to the proliferation of "fake news" websites that publish false stories for propaganda purposes, another challenge for traditional media is hostility from Trump who has on occasion described their reporting as "fake news." Republican Trump's close adviser, Stephen Bannon, told The New York Times in an interview in January: "The media's the opposition party" and not the Democratic Party.   Continued...

The motorcade of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump makes its way past the New York Times building after a meeting in New York U.S., November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton