Last week I returned from a big journalism conference, and it cemented a hunch I’ve been ruminating on for a little while now: A lot of the chatter in the hallways was about data suggesting that readers have started paying less attention to the quick-churn news cycle. Web traffic to news sites appears to have declined across the board from the spikes after Trump was elected.
That’s a problem for a lot of an industry that derives most of its revenue from the ad impressions that load every time you click on a story, whether or not you end up actually reading it.
But it might also be good news—if it means that as a society, we’re ready to engage with the news in a different, less frantic way.
Before I unpack that, though, I’ll level with you: I also suspect fatigue is a big reason we’re behind on our fall pledge drive. We need to pick up the pace to make our $200,000 budget, so even if—especially if—you’re feeling like it’s just too much right now, I hope you’ll keep reading and that you’ll support Mother Jones’ journalism with a tax-deductible donation today.
Now let’s dig in on the question of fatigue, because it’s a real concern—and our team isn’t immune from it either. From Charlottesville, devastating hurricanes, and the mass shooting in Las Vegas to attempts to kick millions off of their insurance or reversals on DACA (to name just a few—travel bans! North Korea! Iran!), it’s been a tough run.
So as counterintuitive as it seems, let’s think back to a moment we all remember very precisely: The night of November 8, 2016. That moment when it became clear that Donald Trump would be our next president.
People dealt with that night a lot of different ways, but I’ve heard one thing from almost everyone I know: We all felt our compass very intensely that night. We felt it in our bones. We were really connected to our values, and we knew that our values demanded that we pick up our tools and start hammering away at what seemed like the daunting task of advancing democracy, justice, and progress.
Here’s how a former tech executive put it to me at an event recently: “I realized that night that I couldn’t outsource participation. I couldn’t leave democracy to other people.”
As people thought about what democracy means to them, many of them found their way to journalism—including Mother Jones. We saw tens of thousands of new subscribers and supporters sign up, and we took that as a mandate: to reconfigure our priorities, to double down on the work that is most critical now, to be worthy of the trust that our audience—you!—places in us.
Nine months in, if we feel a little overwhelmed, it’s for good reason: They want us to be. The more they get us thinking it’s impossible to keep up, the less we can pull back and keep eyes on our compass. So whenever I battle the fatigue that is inescapable at times like this, I try to think back to that moment, when we all knew it would be a long slog, and we couldn’t afford to feel hopeless. (You can let me know how you’re feeling and hear from fellow readers at the end of this article.)
And there’s one other thing we realized at that moment: We could no longer keep going the way we were. That’s where I come back to the changing patterns in news consumption. Maybe it’s a good thing that we’re no longer frantically clicking on every outrage-inducing link in our Facebook feed. Lots of you have told us that you are unplugging a bit—not from the issues, but from the blur of headlines. That you are taking the time to read more deeply, and to connect with others for real (yes, even face to face) conversations.
And it turns out that by doing this, you may be fighting the propagandists in the most effective way there is. Last year, the nonpartisan research organization RAND released a study of messaging techniques used by Kremlin-controlled media, known as the “Firehose of Falsehood.” Here are their two main takeaways: Russian propagandists utilize “high numbers of channels and messages, along with “a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions” that “entertains, confuses, and overwhelms the audience.”
Sound familiar? It’s very similar to what we’ve been seeing from Trump and his allies in the last year and a half.
But the propagandists’ worst nightmare is for the audience—us—to hold on to our grounding. The study concluded that the best way to counter deception and media manipulation is getting ahead of the lies with accurate information, and exposing the propaganda as such—because fighting it case by case, story by story, is a daunting, and losing battle.
It’s a tall order, and I won’t pretend we can do it on our own, but Mother Jones—and most journalism—exists to make it harder for the firehose of falsehood to work. If that’s what you want, I hope you’ll join us with a tax-deductible donation to help us reach $200,000 so we can keep digging up facts and get them to millions of readers for free. We only have two weeks left in our pledge drive, and we still need to raise about $100,000 to stay on track.
We can’t let Trump-era politics become the new normal. But we also can’t respond to every development as a brand new, hair-on-fire crisis. By recognizing the playbook, and refusing to let it work you up or beat you down, we can hold on to the strength and wit we’re going to need for the road ahead. That’s what we’re committed to—and I hope you’re with us.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Trump fatigue, because when I say being a reader-supported nonprofit means we answer only to you, that’s not empty rhetoric. We not only need to double down on fact-finding reporting during times like these, we also need to listen and learn from you.
In addition to using your feedback to better understand how our readers are feeling, we’ll also anonymously share some of your messages to inspire other readers—and our staff. By providing your email address you agree to let us contact you regarding your feedback. We respect your privacy and will not use your email address for any other purpose.
Update: October 20, 2017:
Wow, I’m blown away. Your responses have been amazing.
“At the end of the day, it’s hard. Not impossible. I still wake up every day ready to take on whatever challenge Trump could throw our way. I still speak up and I will never quit. We don’t have the luxury to completely tune out of current events in this country.”
“I am weary. I am tired of him, of all the chaos, the hatred, the ignorance, the bullying, the mudslinging, the narcissism, tired of it all. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
“I cried after finishing this article. The last few weeks I’ve felt so overloaded with news and information, felt like the endless bombardment was getting to me, but I never heard anybody I know talk about feeling the same way.”
“Fatigue is an understatement. Don’t know a stronger word but I do know that what would improve this for me is for the media to purposely call this liar out. Every time he contradicts himself, roll tape, side-by-side with his “revision.” Make it impossible to ignore or spin the degree of his mendacity. That he’s allowed to lie so much, with impunity, is what is fatiguing to me.”
“I remember my father was in WW2 in the 101st. He liberated a concentration camp from Nazis. He didn’t give up, as his daughter I can’t either.”
“I’m feeling a sense of deja-vu over the past few months—it really feels like what many of us went through during the first few years of the AIDS crisis. The only thing that can get us towards something positive is supporting each other, watching each other’s backs, and making a concerted effort to fight the battle on a personal level with our friends, family, and colleagues.”
“Yes, I am overwhelmed. However, I feel it’s important to stay informed and engaged, consulting reliable journalists to sort the cogent from the distraction. That said, I feel it’s also important to disengage about things that are thrown out there to cause confusion, so that I don’t get sucked into the vortex of what I call “manufactured stress.” So thank you, Mother Jones, for helping with this process by good old fashioned investigative reporting.”
“As exhausting as it is to keep up with the 24/7 chaos, with so much at stake, this isn’t the time to check out. Occasional breaks are fine (and mentally necessary) but democracy is not a spectator sport and this is the long game. Keep up the fabulous work, Team MJ!”
“We are in this for the long haul. There is too much at stake. And now I will go make my gift. Here’s to keeping our MoJo!”
“Don’t give up! Keep reporting!”
What a powerful reminder of just what an amazing community MoJo readers are—they made me even more resolved to keep pushing back against the chaos and propaganda designed to overwhelm us.
If they have that effect on you, I hope you’ll join your fellow readers with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep up the fight.
It’s so heartening that folks rely on MoJo to keep you grounded and informed. Because honestly, you do the same for us. Knowing that you are out there, that you value this kind of reporting, that you help it reach more people and have an impact—and that you fund it—means so much.