I Ignored Trump News for a Week. Here’s What I Learned.
I spent last week ignoring President Donald Trump. Although I am ordinarily a politics junkie, I didn’t read, watch or listen to a single story about anything having to do with our 45th president.
What I missed, by many accounts, was one of the strangest and most unpredictable weeks of news in modern political history. Among other things, there was the resignation of the national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and an “Oprah Winfrey Show” tape that led to the downfall of the nominee for labor secretary, Andrew F. Puzder.
在很多人看来，我错过的这一个星期，是现代政治史上充满最奇怪、最不可预测新闻的星期之一。国家安全顾问迈克尔·T·弗林(Michael T. Flynn)辞了职，一盘《奥普拉脱口秀》(Oprah Winfrey Show)磁带导致安德鲁·F·普兹代尔(Andrew F. Puzder)的劳工部长提名泡了汤，此外还有别的事情。
It wasn’t my aim to stick my head in the sand. I did not quit the news. Instead, I spent as much time as I normally do online (all my waking hours), but shifted most of my energy to looking for Trump-free zones.
My point: I wanted to see what I could learn about the modern news media by looking at how thoroughly Trump had subsumed it. In one way, my experiment failed: I could find almost no Trump-free part of the press.
But as the week wore on, I discovered several truths about our digital media ecosystem. Coverage of Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever. The reasons have as much to do with him as the way social media amplifies every big story until it swallows the world. And as important as covering the president may be, I began to wonder if we were overdosing on Trump news, to the exclusion of everything else.
President Trump is inescapable.
The new president doesn’t simply dominate national and political news. During my week of attempted Trump abstinence, I noticed something deeper: He has taken up semipermanent residence on every outlet of any kind, political or not. He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.
It wasn’t just news. Trump’s presence looms over much more. There he is off in the wings of “The Bachelor” and even “The Big Bang Theory,” whose creator, Chuck Lorre, has taken to inserting anti-Trump messages in the closing credits. Want to watch an awards show? Say the Grammys or the Golden Globes? Trump Trump Trump. How about sports? Yeah, no. The president’s policies are an animating force in the NBA. He was the subtext of the Super Bowl: both the game and the commercials, and maybe even the halftime show.
而且还不仅仅是新闻。特朗普的存在感打破了更多界限。他在《单身汉》(The Bachelor)甚至《生活大爆炸》(The Big Bang Theory)中都沾上了边，因为该剧集的主创查克·洛瑞(Chuck Lorre)在片尾字幕中插入了反特朗普的信息。想观看颁奖礼吗？比如格莱美奖或金球奖？特朗普、特朗普、特朗普。体育运动怎么样？也一样。总统的政策是NBA的一股动力。他还是超级碗的潜台词：这种运动本身及其广告，甚至可能还包括半场演出。
Where else could I go? Snapchat and Instagram were relatively safe, but the president still popped up. Even Amazon.com suggested I consider Trump toilet paper for my wife’s Valentine’s Day present. (I bought her jewelry.)
Trump’s fame may break all records.
All presidents are omnipresent. But it is likely that no living person in history has ever been as famous as Trump is right now. It’s possible that not even the most famous or infamous people of the recent or distant past — say, Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali or Adolf Hitler — dominated media as thoroughly at their peak as Trump does now.
I’m hedging because there isn’t data to directly verify this declaration. (Of course, there are no media analytics to measure how many outlets were covering Hitler the day he invaded Poland.) But there is some pretty good circumstantial evidence.
Consider data from mediaQuant, a firm that measures “earned media,” which is all coverage that isn’t paid advertising. To calculate a dollar value of earned media, it first counts every mention of a particular brand or personality in just about any outlet, from blogs to Twitter to the evening news to The New York Times. Then it estimates how much the mentions would cost if someone were to pay for them as advertising.
In January, Trump broke mediaQuant’s records. In a single month, he received $817 million in coverage, higher than any single person has ever received in the four years that mediaQuant has been analyzing the media, according to Paul Senatori, the company’s chief analytics officer. For much of the past four years, Obama’s monthly earned media value hovered around $200 million to $500 million. The highest that Hillary Clinton got during the presidential campaign was $430 million, in July.
今年1月，特朗普打破了mediaQuant的记录。该公司首席分析官保罗·森纳托利(Paul Senatori)表示，在这个月里，特朗普获得了8.17亿美元的报道，比mediaQuant过去四年中分析的任何一个人都高。在过去四年的大部分时间里，奥巴马每月的媒体价值徘徊在大约2亿美元到5亿美元之间。希拉里·克林顿(Hillary Clinton)在总统竞选期间获得的最高记录是去年7月的4.3亿美元。
It’s not just that Trump’s coverage beats anyone else’s. He is now beating pretty much everyone else put together. Senatori recently added up the coverage value of 1,000 of the world’s best known figures, excluding Obama and Trump. The list includes Hillary Clinton, who in January got $200 million in coverage, Tom Brady ($38 million), Kim Kardashian ($36 million), and Vladimir Putin ($30 million), all the way down to the 1,000th most-mentioned celebrity in mediaQuant’s database, actress Madeleine Stowe ($1,001).
还不仅仅是特朗普打败了所有人。现在其他人加在一起似乎也不是他的对手了。森纳托利最近把奥巴马和特朗普之外世界上名气最高1000人的报道价值加总在了一起。这个名单中有希拉里·克林顿，她在1月获得了2亿美元的报道，汤姆·布雷迪(Tom Brady)3800万美元，金·卡戴珊(Kim Kardashian)3600万美元，普京3000万美元，往下直到mediaQuant数据库中最常被提到的第1000人，女演员玛德琳·斯托(Madeleine Stowe)，1001美元。
The coverage those 1,000 people garnered last month totaled $721 million. In other words, Trump gets about $100 million more in coverage than the next 1,000 famous people put together. And he is on track to match or beat his January record in February, according to Senatori’s preliminary figures.
Trump is a historically unusual president, and thus deserves plenty of coverage. Yet there’s an argument that our tech-fueled modern media ecosystem is amplifying his presence even beyond what’s called for.
On most days, Trump is 90 percent of the news on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and probably yours, too. But he’s not 90 percent of what’s important in the world. During my break from Trump news, I found rich coverage veins that aren’t getting social play. ISIS is retreating across Iraq and Syria. Brazil seems on the verge of chaos. A large ice shelf in Antarctica is close to full break. Scientists may have discovered a new continent submerged under the ocean near Australia.
There’s a reason you aren’t seeing these stories splashed across the news. Unlike old-school media, today’s media works according to social feedback loops. Every story that shows any signs of life on Facebook or Twitter is copied endlessly by every outlet, becoming unavoidable.
Every new story prompts outrage, which puts the stories higher in your feed, which prompts more coverage, which encourages more talk, and on and on. We saw this effect before Trump came on the scene — it’s why you know about Cecil the lion and Harambe the gorilla — but he has accelerated the trend. He is the Harambe of politics, the undisputed king of all media.
The volume isn’t sustainable.
It’s only been a month since Trump took office, and already the deluge of news has been overwhelming. Everyone — reporters, producers, anchors, protesters, people in the administration and consumers of news — has been amped up to 11.
For now, this might be all right. It’s important to pay attention to the federal government when big things are happening.
But Trump is likely to be president for at least the next four years. And it’s probably not a good idea for just about all of our news to be focused on a single subject for that long.
In previous media eras, the news was able to find a sensible balance even when huge events were preoccupying the world. Newspapers from World War I and World War II were filled with stories far afield from the war. Today’s newspapers are also full of non-Trump articles, but many of us aren’t reading newspapers anymore. We’re reading Facebook and watching cable, and there, Trump is all anyone talks about, to the exclusion of almost all else.
There’s no easy way out of this fix. But as big as Trump is, he’s not everything — and it’d be nice to find a way for the media ecosystem to recognize that.