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’Trump Bump’ Ends For News As Ratings, Readers Drop - What Happens Now?

The Trump bump is gone and news organizations are feeling the pinch as ratings and readers fall off without the former President’s daily flurry of frenzied activity.

Two months into the much-calmer Biden administration, The Washington Post has lost 26% of its unique visitors and The New York Times has lost 17%, according to ComScore. Among cable networks, CNN’s primetime audience has reportedly shrunk by 45%, MSNBC’s has fallen 26% and Fox News’ has dipped 6%, according to Nielsen Media Research.

While everyone expected adjustments in the post-Trump era, life without bizarre news conferences, massive racial justice protests and Capitol insurrections has produced a sharp downturn among viewers and news agencies. Even coronavirus coverage, which captivated and horrified the world for over a year, is becoming less compelling as more vaccines roll out and people get inoculated.

News organizations rode the Trump bubble hard from the moment his candidacy took hold of pop culture — both for the good and for the bad. The three top cable news networks saw primetime viewership shoot up from 2.8 million to 5.3 million during the Trump era, while The New York Times boosted digital subscriptions from 3 million to 7.5 million. The Post tripled its subscriber base to more than 3 million.

This led some to accuse news organizations of increasing coverage and even goading Trump in order to boost their pockets.

(via The Washington Post): Trump’s rise was so closely linked to the news companies’ success that some accused the networks of enabling him — endlessly broadcasting his racism and sexism-tinged stump speeches in what amounted to free political advertising. CNN President Jeff Zucker expressed regrets late in the 2016 campaign about his network’s coverage but acknowledged later that it drew viewers.

The Times’s top editor, Dean Baquet, refutes that claim, however.

“Our audiences grew in the last four years because people came to understand that independent and aggressive journalism is important to the democracy,” Baquet said. “And frankly the democracy was being challenged.”

Trump’s departure leaves a huge content gap and a hole in the bottom line for news organizations. What will they do now? The Post, for one, intends to fill it with “more journalism,” like covering the Biden Administration.

“We intend to cover this president as aggressively as we covered his predecessors,” said Cameron Barr, The Post’s interim executive editor.

That may be, but many news organizations grew to mirror Trump’s reality-show style governing with their almost tabloid-leaning coverage of his administration. Perhaps these ratings and revenue dips will set off a deep reckoning and lead them back to the core of journalism.

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