The Media Doesn’t Know Its Viewers

The news, like so many other things in life today, is a business. But unlike most businesses (where there is a philosophy that the customer is usually right), most news networks assume that their customers (viewers like you and me) are stupid and wrong.

It’s been this way for quite a while. In the 1990s, the “new media” emerged (think Rush Limbaugh, Drudge, and Fox News Channel) and started challenging the monopoly of traditional news services. In the context of business, this was nothing new: a healthy free market system allows for competition between businesses. After all, competition is how we as consumers get the best product.

In the news business, though, the legacy media ignored their new challengers and, insofar as they did recognize the competition, the legacy media wrote it off as ridiculous, propagandistic, unprofessional, and absurd. More damagingly, the mainstream media mocked the viewers who did take an interest in the new media.

Of course, the new media was not a short-lived fad, like Pogs or Beanie Babies. Limbaugh still dominates what remains of radio as he has for more than 25 years. Drudge is one of the most popular news sites in the world (and spawned a retinue of other conservative sites). And, until recently, Fox News Channel was the most watched cable news network. These conservative news organizations all had one thing in common: they knew who their audience was and they respected it. They did not hector their audience, they did not assume that their audience needed to be “educated,” they simply offered their viewers stories that interested them—and they didn’t make their audience feel bad about it.

align=”right” With the election of Donald Trump, the mainstream media’s business model has taken another hit.

The legacy media has finally caught on to the fact that their ability to determine what should comprise “all the news that’s fit to print” has vanished. Their realization is about 15 years too late, however. Mainstream media institutions, from the New York Times to NBC News, have seen their audience—and therefore their ad revenues—drain away. Yet, instead of reassessing why their business models were no longer working (as most normal businesses would do), the legacy media assumed that they were losing audience simply because the audience was too dumb to recognize their brilliance. After all, it was they who were broadcasting the news, while their audiences were but the empty receptacles meant to receive the information the media brought to them.

It’s akin to a restaurant forcing its patrons to eat the same consistently bad entrée rather than admit that the chef, not the patrons, is the problem. At some point, people will stop showing up if all that you offer is the same terrible product, in the same tired and boring way.

In fact, the only thing that the legacy media has going for it is that its allies in other elite institutions of academia, business, and government sectors insist that the legacy media’s products be made available. Without those powerful special interests, there’d be nothing holding the mainstream media from falling into the abyss of outright failure.

With the election of Donald Trump, the mainstream media’s business model has taken another hit. To be fair, Trump’s star power and popularity forced the mainstream media begrudgingly to cover his unlikely (according to the mainstream media) presidential campaign. In turn, the mainstream media’s ratings increased. Though, the ratings increase was in spite of not because of the mainstream media’s best efforts to harm Trump.

More troubling, the men and women who comprise the legacy press—mostly Democrats, but a few Republicans also—looked down upon Trump and his campaign. What’s more, they loathed the Trump voter. After all, the Trump voters were basically the same people who had broken the mainstream media’s business model by abandoning them and going over to the new media in the first place.

It wasn’t even that there was a significant ideological divide between the legacy media and Trump. Remember, for years, Trump was the darling of the media. Trump was routinely called upon by the likes of CNN and CNBC to parse out his wisdom on all matters, mostly business, but also respecting politics and pop culture. In fact, Trump was a registered Democrat for several years before he finally decided to run for president in 2015.

Moreover, many of Trump’s voters are former blue-collar Democrats from the “rust belt” of America who felt alienated by the leftward lurch of the DNC. The reason the mainstream media hated Trump and his voters was cultural. It was a classic case of the haughty ruling class wanting to ignore the throngs of the rough-and-scoffing (in their eyes) masses, who comprised what Angelo Codevilla refers to as the “country class.”

Take Megyn Kelly’s fall from grace. While she was a rising star on the Fox News Channel, garnering high ratings and widely regarded as a top-notch journalist though despised among legacy journalists. Kelly opted to trade in her rising star in the conservative new media, for a chance to join a more conventional media outfit. After her series of run-ins with Trump on the campaign trail and after Rupert Murdoch’s controversial removal from his position at Fox News, Kelly joined NBC News to great fanfare. Obviously, she believed that her star power was greater than anything on Fox. Of course, NBC News—a network that has been hemorrhaging viewers for some years—jumped at the opportunity to grab onto Kelly’s star. They assumed that she would bring with her a large bloc of her Fox viewers.

They were wrong.

Now, Kelly is languishing in the ratings wars—losing to reruns of CBS’ 60 Minutes! Kelly has been granted interviews with Russian President Vladimir Putin (during which he humiliated her) and even begged gonzo, fringe Right media figure Alex Jones, to do an interview with her. Kelly did her best to make Jones look bad (not a difficult task) and still could not generate enough viewers. In typical fashion, Howard Stern has piled on and believes it’s that Kelly is not dressing as provocatively as she did when she was on Fox. What’s more likely at play is that Kelly, like her new corporate masters in the legacy media, has no idea who her audience is anymore.

Like the protagonist Philip Nolan in Edward Everett Hale’s The Man Without a Country, who abandoned the United States in a fit of rage, and was forced to live his days at sea, forbidden from hearing any news of his former home, the legacy media is rapidly becoming a business without customers. Just like Nolan, the mainstream media remains stubbornly unrepentant for rupturing the trust of the American people. But now, the legacy media seems sad and desperate to report the news in any way that it can.

Sure, it continues to push its Leftist agenda. But, to remain competitive, they’ve had to cover President Trump constantly. Even though they are clearly trying to destroy him with their coverage (it’s not working), their influence is so diminished that all they can do is continue pushing the Trump-Russian collusion lie. And, even that is beginning to lose steam among the few viewers they have left. The media doesn’t know who its viewers are anymore and they’re paying the price now.

The institutions that comprise the legacy media have long rested on their reputations to sustain them in these difficult years. Yet those reputations cut two ways. For, as they continue claiming to be the source of true news, they are also unable to change their mostly unsuccessful business model.

Reputation is a powerful thing. Businesses the world over spend vast sums of money in maintaining positive press relations, in order to buttress their public image. Once a business becomes marred by bad press, it’s very hard to overturn the negative perception among the public—their consumers. This explains why Megyn Kelly, a ratings success at Fox News, has been a massive ratings bust at NBC News. Reputation matters.

Let this be a cautionary tale to those members of the new media, who might be looking to change audiences: you always have to dance at the ball with the one who brung ya! If you don’t, you too will suffer the fate of the legacy media. Never forget where you came from and who you are. What’s more, never abandon those who made you what you are. Loyalty in business is possibly the most important commodity. In the news business, it’s one of the most fleeting.

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About Brandon J. Weichert

Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor at American Greatness and a contributor at Asia Times . He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower and The Shadow War: Iran's Quest for Supremacy (Republic Book Publishers). Follow him on Twitter: @WeTheBrandon.

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28 responses to “The Media Doesn’t Know Its Viewers”

  1. I just want to concentrate on a single sentence that’s so incorrect and facile that it undermines the whole piece:

    “Mainstream media institutions, from the New York Times to NBC News, have seen their audience—and therefore their ad revenues—drain away.”

    Brandon goes on to say they bounced back thanks to a Trump-driven surge in viewers, and there’s some truth to that, but this sentence on its own has problems.

    *Why it’s wrong:* The NYT audience has been growing, thanks. Even before Trump was a factor in the race, its paid digital subscriptions had risen to 1 million in 2015.

    That suggests that not only has the Times produced something of value, lots of people are willing to spend money to have access to it.

    *Why it’s facile.* Despite that rise in audience, the Times’ ad revenue did indeed go down. That’s a phenomenon happening across media, and there are a number of reasons why that’s the case. Even Fox News, with its industry-leading ratings, hasn’t commanded the ad revenues such a lofty perch might seem to demand.

    The truth is that the media in an evolutionary phase that has lots to do with shifting technologies and personal habits — my dad used to be home in time for the 530 pm CT network news, but who has the time anymore? — and maybe, in the spirit of fairness, some of this can be attributed to ideological disgust.

    Brandon neglects to address those other factors, though. He’s left proving a premise that, once examined closely, falls apart. It’d be a shame to ruin a screed against the MSM with actual facts, though.

    • Why should we believe those “facts”? Because the Wall Street Journal published them? Because the New York Times Corporation said so? The mainstream media are awash in lies, manipulation and propaganda. They would all be out of business now if not for people like George Soros financing them. They are the propaganda arm of their respective political masters, who themselves are set upon destroying America and erasing Christianity from the world.

      The United States should follow Hungary and ban regime change agents posing as journalists. If Americans cannot see that the same people who brought “Color Revolutions” to Ukraine, Georgia etc are now trying to fomment one in the United States, then America is in trouble.

      The 1 million NYT users are probably just a bunch of snoty self-absorbed pseudo-elitists who like living in a self-imposed bubble of nonesense.

      • “The United States should follow Hungary and ban regime change agents posing as journalists.”

        I’ve seen that opinion several times on this site, several times, in edited, published pieces. So glad to know that the more-Constitutional-than-thou crowd hates the First Amendment, and is willing to outlaw political opposition. Jeepers.

      • Article 4, section 4:
        “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican Form of Government”

        The mainstream media have systematically undermined our republican form of government. They have all but extinguished America’s constitutional soul.

        The first amendment prohibits Congress from “making any law…
        abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”

        I am not advocating a law abridging freedom of speech, or of the press. I am advocating an investigation of agencies of men posing as “the press” who are in fact engaged in undermining constitutional culture and eroding republican government. What are the sources of their financing? Who are they colluding with as they try to destroy American democracy? Aren’t media conglomerates too big? Shouldn’t they be trust-busted?

        I have not seen anyone at AG advocate these positions.

      • “I am not advocating a law abridging freedom of speech, or of the press. I am advocating an investigation of agencies of men posing as “the press” who are in fact engaged in undermining constitutional culture and eroding republican government.”

        Your Orwellian doublespeak is showing.

      • It is not meaningless. According to the mainstream media, I am not a fairly well educated man of independent judgment and broad international experience who listened to the candidates debate and after rational consideration voted for Donald Trump. According to the mainstream media I do not exist as a citizen, but am a paid troll or a victim of Russian propaganda or a resentful racist. The mainstream media have dehumanized millions of American voters this way. It is extremely meaningful.

      • (Let’s also be clear: You didn’t really present any facts to show I was wrong. You instead disputed the idea that true facts exist if delivered by somebody of insufficient ideological regard. That’s a weird kind of ad hominem that suggests there is a media bubble in this conversation — just not the one you’ve identified.)

      • You are correct. I did not present any facts. I simply dispute the legitimacy of your source because long experience has shown it to be engaged in deliberate manipulation. The burden should not be on me to prove that this one time, the mainstream media is not lying and manipulating data. The burden is on you to explain why data originating with the mainstream media should be believed?

      • Comments like this are revealing.

        A) I am Polish, with only a bit of Russian in me from my grandfather who was also Georgian.

        B) This comment has the same tone as “go to the back of the bus” but of course racism against Slavs is perfectly acceptable amongst many liberals.

        C) Russians were smart enough to know that the mainstream press in the USSR was not a press, but a propaganda arm of an international conspiracy aimed at destroying Russia – thus Pierestroika, thus the Russian people overthrew communism. In Poland it was the same.

        Only in the West are a large segment of the population so ignorant and lacking in culture that they would allow themselves to be spoonfed lies and propaganda for years on end and do nothing about it.

      • No it’s not racism, as I didn’t know your nationality or origin. You are a Russia agent. How long have you resided in the USA? Long enough to be a citizen?

      • Gosh, you need to run through my disqus feed because I already wrote about how I work in a Russian troll factory in St. Petersberg with Tom S and Joe H. We run it out of Aunt Polly’s orchard. After our Trump victory we’re thinking of hacking Congress when the new GOP tax bill comes up. We have agents ready to put America on a 13% flat tax like in Russia. Then your people will become rich and corrupted by materialism. Hah hah hah.

    • I’m relieved to find out that the NY Times is indeed a successful business. I was worried about the Gray Lady, but now that I know there are one million subscribers, out of a New York population of approx. 8.5 million, I feel much better. As for changing population habits, I grew up in a family that made it a point to eat dinner together at 6:00 pm, and we watched the news then. But we weren’t connected to the news 24/7, as today’s technology allows. Yeah, things are changing … new business models are required.

  2. I hope those running Fox News read this article! Don’t abandon the audience that brought you to your former prominence!

    • Meh. Just dump ’em. Carlson and Hannity will emerge on some other platform and they are the only two worthwhile entities there.

  3. The media drank it’s own snake oil and liked it so much, it thought it was omnipotent.
    After the masquerade that was so successful in fabricating a person of paltry redeemable character into a presidential quality candidate like Obama, they convinced themselves they could hose the gullible American voters at any time they chose.
    This phenomenon is commonly known as “karma”.

  4. [,,,] and after Rupert Murdoch’s controversial removal from his position at Fox News

    Mr. Weichert, I think you meant Roger Ailes’s controversial removal…

    Great article!

  5. The only modification I might suggest to this article would be to change “Legacy Media” to “LeftMedia,” since that is more appropriate.

    • Agreed. The LeftMedia doesn’t consider its viewers as a “customer” audience. Their audience have become frustrating, thick-headed tools of the narrative agenda and, like Obama who blamed the ability to message effectively rather than the message itself, the dwindling “viewers” are more and more those in the echo chamber with them and those on the right who watch only to report on the lack of integrity and outright nonsense they spew every day.

  6. I keep reading CNN is experiencing a ratings boom by trashing and lying about Mr T, undermining the author’s thesis that audiences are disappearing because of a breach of trust. Which is it?

    • I think it’s funny that you see “offering a differing opinion” as trolling.

      • I think it’s funny that you responded knowing it was you. A stuck pig is gonna squeal.

  7. What’s purportedly news, is just entertainment. And no different than Hollywood entertainment, where the ‘stars’ are the faces appearing on screen. Complain, criticize all you want, but you’re talking about Megyn Kelly, not substance–just eyecandy to viewers.

  8. Once upon a time, the MSM WAS the “last word” (50’s – 60’s). In the 70’s they began to get sleazy. By the 80’s and 90’s they had gone off the reservation. Boom: along comes one of those self-organizing phenomena – like a thunderstorm when the temperature gets over some critical point – and along comes Rush, Drudge and on and on. That pushed back on them considerably, and weakened them. Now comes Trump – a force like a tsunami – and I think he could break some of them. Either they shrink, go out of business, or change their business models. But, they won’t come out of this unchanged. By and large, we win.