Jun 25, 2019

"Trump slump" hits big media

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Top news executives tell Axios that a real "Trump slump" is hitting digital, cable and more.

Why it matters: The shock factor around President Trump's unplanned announcements, staff departures, taunting tweets and erratic behavior is wearing off, and media companies are scrambling to find their next big moneymaker.

Driving the news: Executives tell Axios that Trump fatigue is very real: Interest in political coverage overall is down, which is spurring investments in other beats, like technology and the global economy.

  • Democrats don't appear to be the lifeline media companies are hoping can fill the gap for diminished Trump interest. Executives say they expect this week’s debate ratings to be nothing like the ratings for the 2016 Trump debates.

Be smart: Part of the problem is that 2020 Democrats don't have a knock-out media star to drive interest in the election. To date, the Democrats' biggest media attraction has been Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who isn't running for president.

  • Other candidates split the spotlight in the crowded Democratic primary field.

By the numbers: Digital demand for Trump-related content (number of article views compared to number of articles written) has dropped 29% between the first 6 months of the Trump presidency and the most recent 6 months, according to data from traffic analytics company Parse.ly.

  • Evidence that Trump's social media star power was also beginning to wear off surfaced last month, when Axios reported that his tweets were receiving less than half the engagement that they got when he first took office.

Similar trends are happening in more traditional media settings:

  • In March, New York Times COO Meredith Kopit Levien told Axios during a panel at SXSW that the paper's subscription "Trump Bump” ended in mid-2018.
  • In December, media research firm MoffettNathanson found that live news network ratings were down "in the -10% to -20% range" for the better part of 2018. Overall, the firm found that ratings around TV news coverage overall began to decline after the 2016 election.
  • Cable TV networks, which still reach a majority of Americans with political news coverage, began pulling back on Trump campaign rallies late last year because they weren't driving ratings, according to Politico.

Our thought bubble: The Trump bump that supported the news industry through difficult economic times is not sustainable, and media companies that were once reliant on politics coverage to get through tough times are going to have to pivot.

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George Zimmerman sues Buttigieg and Warren for $265M

George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, in November 2013. Photo: Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images

George Zimmerman filed a lawsuit in Polk County, Fla. seeking $265 million in damages from Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, accusing them of defaming him to "garner votes in the black community."

Context: Neither the Massachusetts senator nor the former Southbend mayor tweeted his name in the Feb. 5 posts on what would've been the 25th birthday of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen Zimmerman fatally shot in 2012. But Zimmerman alleges they "acted with actual malice" to defame him.

4 takeaways from the Nevada Democratic debate

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The relative civility of the last eight Democratic debates was thrown by the wayside Wednesday night, the first debate to feature the billionaire "boogeyman," Michael Bloomberg, whose massive advertising buys and polling surge have drawn the ire of the entire field.

The big picture: Pete Buttigieg captured the state of the race early on, noting that after Super Tuesday, the "two most polarizing figures on this stage" — Bloomberg and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders — could be the only ones left competing for the nomination. The rest of candidates fought to stop that momentum.

Klobuchar squares off with Buttigieg on immigration

Buttigieg and Klobuchar in Las Vegas on Feb. 19. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg went after Sen. Amy Klobuchar on the debate stage Wednesday for voting to confirm Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and voting in 2007 to make English the national language.

What she's saying: "I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete, but let me tell you what it's like to be in the arena. ... I did not one bit agree with these draconian policies to separate kids from their parents, and in my first 100 days, I would immediately change that."