How ‘serious’ news outlets helped elect Trump

Editor’s note: Instead of just blaming “fake news” on Facebook, as The Union Editorial Board and The Union’s paid columnist George Boardman have, blame the mainstream media’s obsession with page views and immediacy. The charts in this article are telling.

“Like many populist leaders, Donald Trump skillfully exploited the media obsession for immediacy and page views,” according an article on Medium.

“In French journalism, especially in radio and TV, we have an expression that says it all: ‘He (or she) is a bon client.’ Literally, a good customer, an endless provider of soundbites and juicy quotes that will jump to the top of the news cycle. The most spectacular, the semantically simplest wins the prize. The “good customer” delivers strong, punchy lines. These can be superficial and even untrue, but only the tune matters, not the lyrics. That has been the case for countless populist leaders, from the French alt-right Marine LePen, to Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte and, of course, Donald Trump.

“Across the board, the media love such fodder. Including mainstream, legacy news outlets. Years ago, draping themselves in the sanctity of journalism, these news organizations kept deriding the clickbait news machines that arose from the internet. ‘We are not in the same business, they are craving for clicks, we do serious journalism.’

“Today, the lines are blurred. Digital native outlets contribute to good journalism — Buzzfeed, to take one example, has landed numerous great pieces over the last months — but legacy media have largely succumbed to the dictatorship of traffic growth, hence the appeal of the ‘good customer.'”

“Let’s consider the following charts. The first one comes from The DataFace, a tiny dataviz operation. It simply measured the number of articles produced from July 2015 through September 13, 2016 by ‘serious ‘media outlets: New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Slate, Politico, Fox News and the Weekly Standard.


“The Trump obsession is glaring. By any measurement, most stories about the Republican candidate were negative. But that element carried no consequences. In the post-fact society that is now ours, accuracy doesn’t weigh much. Only noise matters.

“The second chart was published last week by the New York Times. It shows the staggering amount of free media Trump enjoyed, a direct and quantified consequence of the ‘good customer’ effect:


The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

One thought on “How ‘serious’ news outlets helped elect Trump”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s