Publishers Respond to Fake News by Marketing Their Journalism

With the sobering revelation that fake news circulated on Google and Facebook may have influenced the U.S.’s democratic elections, the public has reawakened to the value of authentic journalism in our society. During his campaign President-Elect Donald Trump continuously threatened journalism institutions like The New York Times and often helped in the spread of fake news. In light of these threats to the public’s understanding of global and national events, consumer demand for quality journalism has grown apace.

This renewed focus on good journalism has created a unique opportunity for publishers to market their value as sources of reliable information, which is a newly powerful message. Instead of focusing on discounted subscriptions and digital value add offers, publishers are marketing their core value to drive subscriptions. Publishers like Slate and The New York Times are calling on readers to subscribe to their publications to help support “real journalism.” Mother Jones and ProPublica are asking readers for donations so that they can “hold those in power accountable.”

The growing demand for quality journalism has led to a surge in subscriptions for many publishers. NiemanLab dubbed this phenomenon the “Trump Bump.” The New York Times reported that its subscriptions grew tenfold after the election, adding over 132,000 paid subscribers. (Throughout the election, Trump repeatedly claimed NYT was in financial trouble.) The Atlantic saw new subscriptions rise 160% in the first weeks after the election. Consumers are also donating to news outlets in response to Trump’s threats against free press. The Washington Post reported that Mother Jones received 10 times as many donations as it does in a normal day the day after the election.

Here are a few examples of how publishers are marketing themselves in the fake news era:

Slate appeals to its liberal reader base, asking them to subscribe to Slate Plus and help the publisher “hold Trump accountable”:

Slate Call for Subscription

The New York Times makes an appeal for readers to subscribe to “real journalism”:

NYT Real Journalism Subscription Callout

On Mother Jones, a letter from CEO Monika Baurlein pops up on the homepage asking for donations to help the organization “expose the truth in the Trump administration.”

Mother Jones Call for Donation

ProPublica asks for donations on its homepage to help “hold those in power accountable”:

ProPublica Call for Donation

The Wall Street Journal’s subscription appeal describes the publication as “coverage you can trust”:

Wall Street Journal Subscription

The good news is that despite Trump’s best efforts to discredit news organizations and the unrelenting spread of fake news, quality journalism is winning out. In fact, Trump frequently boosts publishers’ subscription numbers after bashing them. Vanity Fair has recently experienced one such bump. After the publication published a critical review of Trump Grill last week, describing it as “the worst restaurant in America,” President-Elect Trump took to Twitter to observe that Vanity Fair’s numbers are “Way down, big trouble, dead!” In truth, Vanity Fair’s revenue is up 2% year over year, and Trump’s tweet actually led to a rise in subscriptions. The day following Trump’s tweet “was the highest number of subscriptions sold in a single day ever at Condé Nast,” a Condé Nast spokesperson told Folio. Capitalizing on the increased exposure and bump in traffic, Vanity Fair has a subscription call-out on its homepage that describes it as “The Magazine Trump Doesn’t Want You To Read!”

A feud with the Donald may be worth incorporating in your 2017 audience development strategy.


Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.


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