On November 14 of last year, The New York Times noted it had added 41,000 subscriptions after the election of Donald Trump just six days earlier. This represents its largest subscription increase since the NYT introduced its paywall in 2011. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, said, “It pays to do real news at a time when there is so much fake news around.”
I can’t help thinking this post triggered a number of Belgian and Dutch news professionals. If Americans could show their support at a time when real journalism needs it most, why not also the European public?
The first half of 2017 has a full schedule of elections, and the discourse of a number of populist protagonists (Wilders, Le Pen, and Alternative for Germany, for example) has gained momentum. One example is a modest peak in trial subscriptions at De Standaard in the heat of the American election campaign.
Does our public feel the same about the fourth pillar of democracy, and should the press underline this message in the same way American media have successfully done with their campaigns over the last months?
In the last couple of weeks, this seems to be the case in the Netherlands and Belgium. Flemish news magazine Knack published a personalised cover, guaranteeing investigative journalism in times of fake news. Dutch digital-only publication De Correspondent does fantastic copywriting and more or less presents its subscription message as a crowdfunding campaign: For six Euros a month, you support investigative journalism.
De Morgen compares truth to the ink of a tattoo, creeping under your skin and following its own path. De Morgen leaves no questions unanswered — and no answers unquestioned.
And De Standaard is about to launch a commercial that unravels the manipulations of … commercials. The truth is that De Standaard wants to sell you a newspaper. But the truth is also that, by selling newspapers, the newsroom is able to tell more about the truth. It does so by showing an attractive lady and a low male voice (because they both sell better).
Within the next few months, we will be able to say if a pitch on the truth truly sells more newspapers in the lowlands.