The National Today

U.S. media stands up to Trump, but can't stop industry's financial free fall

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

U.S. President Donald Trump has a history of demonizing the media - while also benefitting immensely from its coverage of him. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and we'll deliver it directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • More than 350 U.S. newspapers stood up collectively today to denounce Donald Trump's characterization of the media as the 'enemy of the people.' Their solidarity likely won't help the declining financial fortunes of the industry.
  • ​Italy's populist government, the EU and private companies are all trading blame for the collapse of the Morandi Bridge, which killed more than 30 people in the city of Genoa.
  • Brazil's next federal election is in October, and the most popular candidate, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is currently in prison. Awkward!
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Trump vs. the media

Donald Trump isn't big on backing down.

And so it was this morning, after more than 350 U.S. newspapers published coordinated editorials denouncing the U.S. president's repeated assertions that the press are "enemies of the people."

The 72-year-old made his real estate fortune on the backs of the press, feeding and sustaining his brand through his countless media appearances and even coverage of his marital infidelities.

The playbook was the same for his subsequent reality TV career, and then his climb from fringe candidate to the Oval Office, in which he benefitted, by some estimates, from $5 billion worth of "free" media exposure.

So it should come as no surprise that Trump took the editorial-page rebukes as an opportunity to advance the same headline-grabbing argument that he was being asked to abandon.

If there is a war between the U.S. president and the American media, it's one he's likely to win — if only by attrition.

Newsroom employment in the United States dropped by 23 per cent between 2008 and 2017, a loss of 27,000 jobs, largely precipitated by "failing" newspapers, which shed 45 per cent of their staff over that period.

Television news employment remained flat, while digital media jobs grew, but not nearly fast enough to offset the overall decline.

If anything, the print media free fall is now approaching terminal velocity, with 36 per cent of large American newspapers and 23 per cent of high-traffic digital outlets having gone through at least one more round of layoffs between the beginning of 2017 and this past April. And the larger their circulation, the more likely they were to have fired journalists.

The situation is no better in Canada.

More than 225 weeklies and in excess of 60 dailies have disappeared since 2010, including 36 small-town newspapers shuttered as part of a TorStar-PostMedia swap last fall, with another six killed in June. All the closures were accompanied by layoffs.

The Canadian Media Guild counts more than 12,000 positions lost to firings and buyouts in recent years. And even the country's largest papers have drastically slimmed down, with the Toronto Star having shed more than 300 staff and the Globe and Mail in excess of 100 people since the beginning of this decade.

And Rogers Media — still Canada's biggest magazine company — is now engaged in a desperate search for a buyer for its eight remaining titles, including Chatelaine and Maclean's, after failing to find a "sustainable" business model via cost-cutting, layoffs and reduced publishing schedules.

Many Trump supporters have adopted his anti-media outlook. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

The causes are well known.

In 1950, there were 102 newspapers sold for every 100 Canadian households. By 1995, the number had more than halved. In 2015, there were 18 copies sold per 100 homes, and on the current trajectory, two homes in 100 will be receiving a daily paper by 2025.

Of course, many readers have simply migrated to online platforms. But that hasn't helped stem the bigger problem, a precipitous drop in ad revenue.

Community and daily newspapers in Canada have lost more than $1.5 billion in advertising over the past decade. And the phenomenon is global, with newspapers in France having lost 30 per cent of their revenue between 2003 and 2017, which is better than the 60 per cent drop in the UK, or the 64 per cent decline suffered by their American cousins.

Should Trump be re-elected in 2020, he may well see most of his "enemies" in the press dead and buried by the end of his second term.

But the media landscape, like any ecosystem, suffers when diversity is lost.

Ratings for the president's preferred news source, cable news channels, are also shockingly low. In July, CNN's New Day morning show averaged 504,000 viewers, while MSNBC's Morning Joe grabbed just over one million, and the number-one ranked Fox and Friends captured an audience of 1.46 million.

Added together, that's less than one per cent of the U.S. population.


Italy's blame game

​Italy's populist government has found someone else to blame for the collapse of a highway bridge in Genoa on Tuesday — the Benetton family.

At least 38 people died when an 80-metre-long section of the Morandi Bridge failed during a heavy thunderstorm, dropping 35 vehicles on buildings and a railway track below. With more than 20 people still unaccounted for, the death toll will probably rise.

A woman is comforted as she cries in the wake of the Morandi Bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy, on Aug. 14. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA/Associated Press)

Autostrade, the private company that operates the A10 toll highway, of which the bridge was a part, is controlled by the Benetton family through its holding company, Atlantia.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is threatening to cancel Autostrade's contract to operate 2,000 kms of Italian roadways, and his transport minister has threatened the company with a €150-million fine.

Luigi Di Maio, Conte's deputy and the leader of the Five Star Movement, is going further, accusing Autostrade and its owners of putting profits before safety.

Rescue services work at the scene at the bridge collapse. (Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)

"Instead of investing money for maintenance, they divide the profits and that is why the bridge falls," he said today. "If the bridge was dangerous, then they should have closed it."

Di Maio also accused previous Italian governments of being in the company's pocket.

"For the first time there is a government that does not take money from Benetton. Autostrade was protected by previous governments," he said.

Autostrade and Atlantia have denied the charges, noting that they spent more than €1 billion on safety checks of Italian roads between 2012 and 2017. And they are threatening to sue if their contract is cancelled. All of which provoked another broadside from the government.

"Atlantia succeeds again, with incredible arrogance, and with corpses yet to be identified, to talk of money and business, asking more millions from Italians," Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing League party and the country's interior minister, wrote in a Facebook post.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, centre, has been critical of the EU and private companies and the role he believes they played in the poor structural integrity of the bridge. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Salvini sought to blame the EU for the bridge failure, suggesting that budget restrictions imposed by Brussels had stopped the country from maintaining it properly.

Today, the EU shot back, saying that there is nothing to stop Italy's government from spending on infrastructure, and pointing to its approval in April of a new €8.5-billion plan to upgrade Italy's roads, including the Genoa highway.

Placing all the blame on the Benetton Group may also prove difficult. Critics of the government have already dug up a 2013 blog post by Beppe Grillo, the founder of Five Star, in which he railed against a proposal to build a new highway that would have reduced traffic on the Genoa span.

Warnings of a possible collapse of the Morandi Bridge were "a fairy tale," he wrote.


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Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is still immensely popular despite being imprisoned for his part in a major corruption scandal. (Nelson Antoine/Associated Press)

Lula's popularity dilemma

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is running to become Brazil's next president, even as he sits in a jail cell.

Tens of thousands of his supporters marched through the streets of Brasilia yesterday afternoon, accompanying officials of the Workers Party to officially register the 72-year-old for the Oct. 7 national vote.

Lula, as he is universally known, served two terms as the country's president, from 2003 to 2010, and left office with an 87 per cent approval rating, thanks to a rapidly expanding economy and a raft of poverty-reduction programs.

He has been in prison since early April, serving a 12-year sentence for accepting bribes and money laundering after being caught up in the country's sweeping "car-wash" corruption scandal. Yet Lula remains Brazil's most popular politician, holding a wide lead in the opinion polls.  

The Workers Party, which selected Lula as its chosen standard bearer at an Aug. 4 convention, publicly maintains that he is their first and only choice for president. But privately, party officials concede that his candidacy is likely to be rejected by Brazil's electoral court on the grounds that the law clearly bars those with corruption convictions from seeking office.

Lula has been doing his best to paint himself as a victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

"My imprisonment was the latest phase in a slow-motion coup designed to permanently marginalize progressive forces in Brazil," he wrote in an op-ed published earlier this week in the New York Times. "Brazil's conservatives have done much work to roll back the progress of our Workers' Party governments, and they are determined to keep us from coming to office again in the near future."

But the reality is that he is one of 134 people, of all political stripes, who have been convicted following a multi-year police investigation into what some have termed the "biggest corruption scandal in history."

Supporters of da Silva rallied outside the court where his party registered his candidacy for president. (Elrado Peres/Associated Press)

If and when Lula's candidacy is shot down, the Workers Party is expected to throw its support behind his running mate, Fernando Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo. Some speculate that the party's real hope is to drag out the court hearing for long enough that electoral officials won't have time to remove Lula's picture from the ballot, giving the little-known Haddad a much-needed boost.

This Oct. 7 vote is expected to be the most competitive in Brazilian history, with 13 candidates competing for the two spots in a run-off vote that will decide the winner of the presidency two weeks later.

But that doesn't mean that Brazilians are enthusiastic about their choices. Some polls suggest that one-fifth of the electorate might boycott the first round, and almost 50 per cent of voters say they remain undecided.

Jair Bolsonaro, a retired army captain, is currently running second behind Lula. The tough-on-crime, far-right politician has earned the moniker "Brazil's Trump" for his calls to chemically castrate rapists, boost gun ownership and give police more power to kill suspects.

Geraldo Alckmin, a business-friendly former governor of Sao Paulo, is considered to be the establishment candidate, with plenty of money and inter-party support. But he has ground to make up over the next nine weeks, as he is currently sitting fifth in the polls, with just 6.8 per cent support.


A few words on …

The death of a Queen.


Quote of the moment

"The cougar was on top of the four-year-old. The parent then basically beat the cougar off of the infant using his feet and rocks. He was able to grab his infant son and depart from the area."

- B.C. Conservation Officer Joe Caravetta describes a terrifying cougar attack near Lower Morrissey Creek on Sunday, and the heroism of the as-yet-unnamed boy's father.


What The National is reading​

  • Global warming 'pause' about to end, raise Earth's temperatures further (CBC)
  • Montreal to pressure Ottawa to ban handguns, assault weapons (Montreal Gazette)
  • Up to 20 people still missing in Genoa bridge collapse, chief prosecutor says (CBC)
  • Ugandan lawmakers charged with treason over stoning of president's motorcade (Reuters)
  • Brazil's 'Dr. Bumbum' charged with murder over patient death (Independent)
  • 12-year-old refugee boy on hunger strike in Nauru (SBS News)
  • Queen's physician killed by truck while cycling in London (Telegraph)
  • Want your own Dumbo from Disneyland? Why park history is headed to auction (LA Times)

Today in history

Aug. 16, 1980: Ogopogo, the 'bashful monster'

The first recorded sighting of Okanagan Lake's not-at-all-similar-to-Nessie monster was back in 1872, although the legend says he was known to local Indigenous peoples as N'ha-a-itk, or "snake of the water." This 1980 report is filled with people who claim to have had a brush with a creature that looks like a "frog in the front and a dinosaur in the back." Almost four decades later, he remains elusive.

Sightings of Okanagan Lake's Ogopogo help the region's tourist trade. 2:52


That's all for today.

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