New York Times and Washington Post loom large in the age of Trump

By AFP/Thomas Urbain   June 6, 2017 | 12:18 am PT
Through a drumbeat of almost daily scoops and leaks, The Washington Post and The New York Times have emerged as the titans of news in the age of President Donald Trump.

Michael Flynn, the general who served as national security adviser to the president, was forced to step down after the Washington Post revealed he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with the Russian embassy.

The New York Times revealed that Trump had asked former FBI director James Comey to halt his investigation into Flynn.

The president boasting to Russian diplomats about firing Comey? The talks between those same diplomats and Trump's son-in-law or his attorney general? These, and almost all the stories feeding the extraordinary news cycle of the Trump administration, have been broken by the two dailies.

Other media outlets, such as television news CNN, have had their scoops, but none on the scale of the Post or the Times.

"I think the perception is the reality. They are the dominant news organizations," said Joel Kaplan, journalism professor at Syracuse University.

From the ground-breaking scoops of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the Post and the Times have accumulated decades of experience in investigative journalism.

The self-proclaimed watchdogs of the Trump White House have become the go-to address for anyone within the administration wanting to leak information anonymously.

To cope with the deluge of news, the papers now have unprecedented resources at their disposal. The Times has six journalists exclusively covering the White House, backed by a five-person investigations unit, more than at any point in its history.

Even as it was putting the finishing touches to voluntary redundancy packages in January, the paper was earmarking five million dollars for coverage of the Trump White House.

The Post has an eight-strong White House team, and many more covering government news in general.

"This is war," said Gabriel Kahn, journalism professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "We are in a information battleground ... they cannot get one fact wrong."

"They really are the only news organizations going which have the resources to do these types of stories," said Kaplan.

A news renaissance

At stake is more than just the professional pride of the journalists involved: between September 2016 and March 2017, the Times gained 644,000 subscriptions.

The Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and does not release its sales data, but publisher Fred Ryan said online subscriptions were up 75 percent in 2016.

"This is a sort of a happy instance where following the news and chasing down every lead and breaking story after story is good news practice but it's also good business practice," said Rick Edmonds, media economist at the Poynter Institute. "They're trying to leverage that to even further boost their audience and their paid audience."

Such editorial quality is being used by both papers to set themselves apart from the pack.

"There is a deepening recognition outside the building that The Times is vital to the future of the country, one of the few institutions with the drive and ambition to cover a changing Washington," wrote New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn this week.

The papers are also trying to expand their traditional readership.

"Young people are out there now, they don't read newspapers but they do look at their phones and their tablets and they say: this information is important to me and it's now worth paying for," said Kaplan.

The internet revolution, with the proliferation of social media networks and news sites that had no expensive print publications, have muddied the media waters in recent years and hurt daily papers.

But since Trump's election last year, the hierarchy of news has once again been clearly established.

"This is a renaissance of news," said Kaplan. "The value of news and the importance of information, not fake news, but real news and facts and what's happening has undergone a dramatic change in the last six months, something that we've never seen before.

"People now want to go to the direct source where the news came from, that's not going through other people's filter," he said.

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