Four years of Donald Trump has been a nightmare for some, but certainly not for the American media. His bombastic tweets make for daily headlines, his electric rallies filled with an enthusiastic base create great video content, and his several scandals—including investigations and impeachment trials—produced more news than the average consumer could keep up with. In 2018, Twitter share prices jumped 15.5%, CNN reported $1.5 billion in profits on $2.3 billion in revenue, the New York Times reported 4 million subscribers (the most in their history), and National TV ad revenues held steady at $45.5 million despite decreasing viewership. Conservative news sources like Fox News and Breitbart have been similarly reinvigorated as personalities like Tucker Carlson have lured over 7.5 million viewers on a single night. Billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Jobs’s widow), and Marc Benioff are buying up more and more media due to its popularity. Even unconventional news sources like Buzzfeed, Vice, and Vox Media have attained prominence for their reporting during the last four years.
With his loyal fan base and an array of grievances against Democrats and fake news, Trump will likely maintain a platform for years after Biden’s inauguration.
After changing the media landscape so dramatically, the Trump era is now coming to a close. This begs the question: what will Donald Trump leave in his wake? Although Twitter has attempted to gradually silence Trump by recently restricting his tweets, it seems he has no plan to become silent. With his loyal fan base and an array of grievances against Democrats and fake news, Trump will likely maintain a platform for years after Biden’s inauguration. Currently, Trump is talking about a 2024 run and is even thinking about hosting his own TV segment or starting his own media company. If he does start his own company, this will pull perhaps up to 20% of viewers away from Fox News, with whom Trump has been angry since they were one of the first cable news networks to announce Biden’s victory.
Media in a post-Trump world looks a lot like the media in a Trump world, just with Trump in a different location.
Will all cable news similarly lose revenue and relevance when their star disappears? Or will the polarization and drama that has been cemented in the last four years be here to stay? Perhaps the rhetoric may tone down, and hopefully, we will all be reading about the President’s Twitter account a little less, but it seems hard to picture a less divisive media landscape in America at this point. Media in a post-Trump world looks a lot like the media in a Trump world, just with Trump in a different location.
One projection for the three big cable news outlets (Fox, CNN, and MSNBC) asserts that total ad sales will fall 13.1% in 2021, but this is typical of the post-election year when the horse race is over and voters are less engaged. However, this is not a typical post-election year—with COVID-19, there will be plenty of news and crises to discuss. Furthermore, although Trump will be out of office, there remain “Trump-ites” in the Republican party who are sure to clash with the rise of several young Democratic Congresswomen who are bold, progressive, sometimes controversial, and often make the news. As for the public, it is hard to imagine that, even under calmer leadership, the raging COVID-19 pandemic and the lingering economic and social damage will be more conducive to cooperation. Social media will likely continue to encourage division; Facebook’s algorithm shows its users the articles and news that they like to see, turning it into an echo chamber. Although many liberals applauded Twitter’s recent restrictions on Donald Trump’s tweets as stopping the spread of misinformation, many conservatives see this as another example of Twitter’s and fake media’s left-leaning politics. It will likely just drive conservatives away from Twitter and to a new media company—perhaps Donald Trump’s.