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President Donald Trump Photograph by Getty Images

Trump’s Victory Has People Signing up For News Like It’s Going Out of Style

Mar 07, 2017

Repeated attacks by President Donald Trump and his administration on what they call the "dishonest media" appear to have had an unexpected—and very welcome—side effect for some media companies, which have seen record numbers of new subscribers and donations.

One of the most widely reported examples of this "Trump bump" is the New York Times, which added more than 250,000 new digital subscribers in the final three months of 2016. That was its best quarterly performance since it launched its online paywall in 2011.

But the Times is just one of the more high-profile media outlets that have seen a boost in sign-ups since the election. The Washington Post has also seen a wave of subscriptions, with a record number of new sign-ups in January, and is said to have passed the 300,000 digital-subscriber mark for the first time.

Some magazines have also seen a dramatic jump in subscriptions. Mother Jones saw the number of donors to the non-profit magazine climb by more than 150% in January compared with the same month the previous year, according to a report by Poynter, and saw a more than 300% increase in new digital sign-ups (Time Inc., which owns Fortune, hasn't seen a dramatic rise in subscribers since the election, according to a spokesman).

While some of this increase is likely a result of a fund-raising campaign that Mother Jones started last fall, the magazine has also likely benefited from a renewed interest in supporting public-service journalism that seems to have been triggered by Trump. The Atlantic has also reportedly broken records when it comes to subscriptions, with a bump of 200% in January compared with the previous year.

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The New Yorker is another beneficiary, according to media analyst Ken Doctor. He says the magazine sold 250,000 new subscriptions between election day and the end of January, more than double the number from the same period a year earlier, and January's sign-ups rose tripled. The online magazine Slate has seen a jump in sign-ups for its membership plan as well.

Non-profit investigative outlet ProPublica has also seen a significant bump in donations since the election. In January, it got more than $100,000 in recurring pledges, and by early February it had already raised over $600,000—more than it raised in all of the previous year. Flush with cash, it has been hiring writers and expanding its coverage. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark also recently donated $1 million to the organization.

The Times, Post and ProPublica were all mentioned in a late-night rant by comedian John Oliver that appeared to spark some of the interest in digital subscriptions and donations, but these and other outlets say the effect has continued beyond the short-term jump they saw after Oliver's video.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether this wave of enthusiasm for subscription-based journalism will continue to grow, or whether it is just a short-term boost triggered by Trump's election. Will it be enough to change the financial fortunes of organizations like the New York Times and ProPublica, or will the effect wear off too soon to make a real difference?

National Public Radio affiliate WNYC is another non-profit that has benefited from this apparent increase in interest in supporting serious journalism. According to Politico, the station just finished a five-day pledge drive that raised $3.45 million—the most money ever raised in a single fundraising drive since NPR was created in the 1970s, and up from $2.1 million last year.

WNYC saw 140% more new members donating in the three months following the election, Doctor says, while the number signing up for recurring donations jumped by 163% over the previous year. And smaller stations such as Oregon Public Broadcasting and Minnesota Public Radio have also seen increases in donations and pledges, the analyst says.

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