Aug 26, 2019

Conservative media thrives, grows broader under Trump

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Major conservative media outlets are still growing in the U.S., even in the Trump era, by broadening their coverage areas and audiences to reach as many people as possible.

Why it matters: It's a reversal of the more typical pattern in which ideological media outlets take off when a president from the other side is in power.

Yes, but: While we've seen some left-leaning outlets take off during the Trump era, conservative media remains strong across most major media platforms.

Driving the news: An analysis of conservative websites by the Columbia Journalism Review using Comscore data found that there's been a rise in right-wing web "tabloidism" since President Trump took office.

  • Several right-leaning media outlets, like the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times and RedState, are experiencing major growth by widening their coverage. Their goal is to cover whatever is capturing the world's attention that day, from human interest stories to trending entertainment developments, according to the report.

Be smart: This has long been a tactic of The Hill, a Washington-based news outlet that boasts high social traffic numbers, due in part to its ability to cover lots of different breaking news quickly.

  • Meanwhile, outlets that don't go as wide, like The Federalist and Breitbart, haven't experienced the same growth, per the report. And outlets that refuse to go too hyper-political, like the Weekly Standard, have shuttered.

On social media, conservative outlets are still driving lots of traffic and engagement by utilizing those same tactics of quickly chasing viral news.

  • Far-right sites have seen increased Facebook referral traffic in 2019, compared to the beginning of 2018, according to traffic analytics websites Chartbeat.
  • Other right-leaning websites, like the Daily Mail Online, Daily Wire and Breitbart, also rank high among the news publishers with the highest engagement on Facebook in 2019. Left-leaning sites like HuffPost and some mainstream sites like the New York Times and NBC also rank highly.
  • The 2020 primary has proven to be fertile ground for right-leaning publishers on social media that are looking to capture engagement through a hyper-political election.

Fox News is still the number one news site on Facebook this year in terms of reader engagement, according to social analytics company Newswhip.

  • Online overall, CJR notes that "the most significant change in the conservative media landscape has been the astonishing traffic growth of Foxnews.com," whose traffic has doubled since 2015 and generates "ten times the audience of any other conservative news website offering original content."

On television, Fox News continues to dominate virtually every metric, while other conservative TV groups are also broadening their reach.

  • The network continues to lead cable news ratings overall, in large part due to high ratings during the network's 9 pm hour with Sean Hannity.
  • Fox continues to bring in the cash, despite ad boycotts. The combined average cost for a 30-second ad spot on "Tucker Carlson Tonight," for example, has doubled year over year, according to an analysis by advertising analytics company SQAD. 

Podcasts, meanwhile, have given rise to up-and-coming right-leaning personalities.

  • "The Joe Rogan Experience," a talk podcast hosted by self-described libertarian Joe Rogan, is an example of a podcast that speaks to a broad group of people, particularly young men, from a slightly right-of-center voice. Rogan's podcast has been one of the most-downloaded podcasts on iTunes for two years, per The Atlantic.
  • "The Ben Shapiro Show" lags a few spots behind Rogan on the charts, which is hosted by conservative commentator and personality Ben Shapiro. He has built a megabrand aimed at targeting younger conservatives, which also includes a website called the Daily Wire.

Between the lines: Even fringe right social network Gab is exploding, according to a new analysis by Vice. Vice attributes at least part of that growth to the slowdown of traffic to fringe website 8chan, which went offline several weeks ago.

The bottom line: Typically, the opposition party has a media explosion in response to whichever political group is in power. But the economic stress of the media industry, combined with the Trump-driven conservative strategy of broad messaging, has upended that dynamic.

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