Sticking to the mission: Media figures on thriving in the era of Trump and fake news

Top media figures discussed how they maintain their authority amid allegations of fake news at a Communications Week panel on Thursday.

L-R: Time Inc.'s Edward Felsenthal, Bloomberg LP's Mindy Massucci, The New York Times' Allison Murphy, Digiday's Shareen Pathak
L-R: Time Inc.'s Edward Felsenthal, Bloomberg LP's Mindy Massucci, The New York Times' Allison Murphy, Digiday's Shareen Pathak

NEW YORK: Amid low trust in the press, ubiquitous social platforms, and the proliferation of fake news, is it ever OK for a media outlet to leave its audience behind?

Moderator Joanne Lipman, editor-in-chief of USA Today and SVP and chief content officer of Gannett, asked "The Clicks Are In" panel at Communications Week if media brands should tend to their own bases instead of pandering to others.

Allison Murphy, VP of ad products and news partnerships at The New York Times, said the paper "isn’t interested in being the voice of the opposition," echoing comments made by executive editor Dean Baquet in January.

Asked about the Times’ reputation as leaning to the left, she responded, "We can’t fulfill the mission of the Times by ignoring half the country."

"It’s true not everyone is going to be our audience, and you have to know who you’re trying to reach, but we can’t be the opposition," said Murphy. "That’s not viable for the long term. At some point, presidencies will change, but brands need to persist."

There was widespread discussion in the Times’ newsroom on how to respond after President Donald Trump began assailing the newspaper, she added. The organization resolved to stick to fact-based reporting by covering every statement, even his attacks, just as it would describe any other news event.

Shareen Pathak, co-executive editor of Digiday, said an outlet with a narrowly defined audience encounters different challenges.

"Covering everything is just not an option," she said.

Pathak added that while Digiday tries to be fair and tell both sides of the story, it could come across as "pandering" without careful diligence.

"We have to optimize to [our] audience," she said. "That doesn’t mean telling the stories they want to hear, but stories that will make their lives better, make them do their jobs better, and make better decisions. It’s a challenge and I don’t have the answer."

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