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Nation's Large Newspapers Bolstered By Trump Coverage

Michael Dabin, courtesy of Jim Kirk
New York Daily News
Jim Kirk addresses the New York Daily News newsroom. Kirk was interim executive editor at the Los Angeles Times, served nine days at the New York Daily News before being named editor in chief at the Los Angeles Times.

The nation's largest newspapers are seeing digital subscriptions soar during President Donald Trump's administration. The newly named editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times said during a Sound Ideas interview that readers are willing "to pay for good content" about the current administration.

Illinois State University alumnus Jim Kirk was in Normal to be inducted into The Vidette Hall of Fame. The 1987 ISU graduate said the increase in digital subscriptions for The New York Times has been dramatic over the past several months. As the president has taken aim at issues important to Californians, the Los Angeles Times has benefited as well.

"The president has really pretty much had a bullseye on a lot things that are very important to the readership of the Los Angeles Times," said Kirk. "He's targeted immigration. He's targeted climate change and environmental issues which are extremely important to Californians. Anytime he takes aim at those issues we see a spike in readership." 

Kirk agreed that the nation's largest newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times (ranked fourth in circulation), may be buoyed financially by a president often at war with the media. 

"The question is does it go beyond this presidency, right? Does the momentum continue after he's out of office? We'd like to think so, just because of some of the things we're seeing," said Kirk.

Credit Staff / WGLT
Jim Kirk, editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times, and most newspapers according to Kirk, have a much better handle on who's reading and what drives a reader to convert to a paid reader. He said that data offers guidance on understanding readers, but that doesn't drive what issues to cover or how to cover them.

"We cover national and foreign events through a California lens, doubling down on those issues that are really important to people in California," said Kirk. "Which means our foreign and reporting staff is covering issues like immigration. We view Mexico and central America as our coverage area." 

Kirk views the Asia-Pacific region with the same intensity because of California's diversity. Kirk said the Los Angeles Times wants to "own" coverage of both regions.

That can be difficult, however, considering the state of advertising revenue. While digital subscription are up for major newspapers, and now top 105,000 for the LA Times, Kirk said the increase is not a panacea. He said the Los Angeles Times faces the same headwinds as other newspapers with declining revenue from print advertising and stagnant digital advertising revenue, down a combined 23 percent for the first nine months of 2017, as reported by the soon-to-be former owner Tronc. In February, media company Tronc, announced it was selling the Los Angeles Times and other publications to a billionaire doctor for $500 million.

"The new owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, has stated publicly and again to the staff last week, that he sees this as wanting to save the paper and make it thrive well into the future. He sees this as a purchase for his family that goes beyond this generation and into the next generation." 

Kirk takes over as the 17th editor in chief during a tumultuous period for the venerable paper. NPR has reported extensively that the LA Times has been shaken by multiple sexual misconduct allegations against the paper's former publisher. Kirk's predecessor was pushed out amid newsroom unrest

Other 2018 Vidette Hall of Fame inductees include:

  • Mitch Pugh, editor of The Post and Courier
  • Sally McKee, managing editor of the Peoria Journal Star
  • Bryan Bloodworth, former Pantagraph sports editor and current GLT correspondent
  • Tony Andracki, senior digital producer for Comcast SportsNet Chicago

Full segment from GLT.

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