The world’s media reached a new low last week with their incessant coverage of the US President Donald Trump and a tweet he sent out containing the word “covfefe” – a supposed mistyping of “coverage”.
This came on the heels of a report published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, which analyses the media’s obsession with all things Trump.
Looking at the first 100 days of his presidency, the report detailed that 41% of all news stories were about Trump. This was three times the amount of coverage of any previous US president. Even though Trump himself was the featured voice in 65% of these articles, 80% were negative.
The coverage has come at the cost of real reporting about what he has actually done in that time and what else is going on in the US and the rest of the world. The economy has only been discussed in 4% of the news coverage, and health care, despite attempts to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, managed a not much greater 12%.
It would be tempting to think that the media, especially US journalists, have been obsessed with Trump because of his self-declared war on the press as the “enemy of the people”. But it is likely to be far more prosaic than that. Trump has simply tapped into mainstream media’s evolving role as another form of reality-based entertainment. Articles on Trump become clickbait for those who can’t resist his latest gaff, hoping that this will be the definitive misstep that finally ends his political career.
Ultimately, however, covering Trump is all about driving clicks, and sites like the New York Times and Washington Post, CNN and others have all fallen prey to the single-minded pursuit of revenue-generating clicks.
Unfortunately for the public, this has done them a disservice and reading the Trump-laden news and commentary has become increasingly like stumbling into someone else’s personal and bitter family argument.
Take control with Trump Filters
Fortunately, there is a way that readers can take control of the situation without avoiding all news sites.
For Google Chrome, there is an extension called Trump Filter, written by developer Rob Spectre, which will remove article headlines and paragraphs of text that reference Donald Trump. On Apple iOS there are several blockers, but one that works reasonably well with Safari is “Trump Trump”
These blockers will remove most text that has a reference to Donald Trump but won’t remove images. The image above is the New York Times with several stories about Donald Trump filtered out.
For Google Chrome, there is another extension called “Make America Kittens Again” that replaces images of Trump with cute kittens (see the example below). This app will also replace other people’s images with kittens and allows you to add your own key words. So photos of Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and Pauline Hanson can also be replaced with kittens.
What does this mean for the news?
Switching these extensions on does a number of things that have important consequences for the future of digital news.
The first is that it highlights why people are increasingly turning to social media to read their news because of those platforms’ ability to deliver news that users want to see, while filtering out the things they are simply not interested in.
This may be seen as a negative in terms of being fed news that has a particular bias, but there is a positive side to it in enabling users to take control and avert a site’s particular agenda.
Of course, these technologies, along with ad blockers, are going to change how news organisations have to deliver news to their customers and are unlikely to be welcomed. Google itself is said to be building an ad blocker directly into Chrome that will be switched on by default.
News organisations have increasingly been battling between delivering content that they believe the public “should” read, and content that they know the public wants to read and so consequently will drive clicks and advertising revenue.
In the case of Donald Trump, it’s hard to justify the sheer volume of stories, including those that are based on every tweet he sends late at night. The media seems to have followed its own interests without considering those of the reader.