Newspapers aim to ride ‘Trump Bump’to reach readers.advertisers

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By Jessica Toonkel-NEW YORK, – 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, the Financial Times, The Wall
Street Journal and Gannett Co 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.

‘NO TILT’

To win over advertisers and readers’ trust, The Wall Street
Journal ran ads online and in print during the election. One
featured a pin ball machine with the tagline, “No Tilt. Campaign
coverage that’s on the level.”

The paper has run ads after the election to highlight its
content as “created, curated and checked in a real newsroom.”

The New York Times, which is focused on increasing its
subscriber revenue, in January launched its “Truth” campaign
consisting of online ads urging readers to sign up because,
“Truth. It needs your support.”

The newspaper sees an opportunity in making sure readers
understand that it is fair and accurate and plans to launch
another marketing campaign in coming weeks, Chief Executive
Officer Mark Thompson said on the company’s last earnings call.

The Financial Times is running its “Facts. Truths.” campaign
promoting its coverage of the election and now the Trump
administration.

Gannett, which rebranded its publications under the “USA
Today Network,” has used the election to highlight it has
journalists at local newspapers across the United States, said
Andy Yost, chief marketing officer at Gannett.

WILL ADVERTISERS COME?

Divisiveness stirred by the election campaign has made
brands avoid publications that appear to be politically aligned,
said Natalie Prout, a strategist at Phenomenon, a Los
Angeles-based branding agency.

For example, there is a heightened understanding in the wake
of November’s election that if a brand buys an ad in The
Huffington Post, for example, it could be perceived as
supporting a liberal agenda, Prout said.

Brands are also worried about their ads showing up in what
is perceived as “fake news,” so they are exercising more caution
when using programmatic advertising, where they automatically
buy digital ad spots through a third party.

Instead of listing which sites they do not want their ads
showing up on, more advertisers are choosing which sites they do
want to see their ads, said Barry Lowenthal, president of The
Media Kitchen, a New York-based media buyer.

Despite the recent bump in subscribers, newspapers still are
facing major headwinds, said newspaper analyst Ken Doctor.

“Print advertising is in free fall,” Doctor said. “The
fundamentals haven’t changed.”

But growing digital subscribers can help attract advertisers
to other areas, such as conferences, said Suzi Watford, chief
marketing officer of Dow Jones, which includes The Wall Street
Journal.

“The more we are able to bring in people, the more we are
able to build and maintain a healthy ad business,” Watford said.

(Reporting by Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Anna Driver and Grant
McCool)

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Mareeg senior news editor since 2001 and he can be reached at news@mareeg.com