The media and the United States president have never been more at odds. Why is this, and how does it play into the dynamic of sticky versus spreadable media? Stickiness, a signature of “old” media, seeks to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their behavior, by encouraging deep engagement with content and media. Spreadability, however, is all about sharing; dispersing ideas that can collaboratively be built upon by networks of new media. The interplay of these facets of media has culminated in the ongoing conflict between President and press.
The model of stickiness is inherently that of older media — finite channels, separate roles, and centralized content. However, “sticky” journalism is more difficult to cultivate online. In Henry Jenkins’ words, “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.” Journalistic endeavors conflict with this new environment, since mass sharing of free content doesn’t fit into older media’s economic models. As a result, accessible low-quality content becomes spreadable than inaccessible high-quality content, and Trump can use spreadable media to draw the public’s eye away from his own scandals in sticky media.
Journalists were skeptical of how President Trump would impact their work even before the recent scandals. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote on January 21 that “There are two common views among journalists about the fate of our profession…The first is that ours is an age of maximal danger for the freedom of the press…The second is that this will be a golden age for the media.” This “golden age” possibility is tied to stickiness. The idea is that a Trump-fearing country will need and want the press, more than ever, for in-depth and “sticky” investigative journalism.
Rupert Cornwell from The Independent explains that this is not just a desire of the American people, but a prerogative of the journalism industry. He asserts, “The stakes couldn’t be higher. One egregious blunder, and it would fall into the ‘fake news’ trap. Trump would be vindicated and media credibility…would take a perhaps fatal hit.” So how can journalists create spreadable, trustworthy content with the constraints of a sticky platform? Christine Emba of the Washington Post argues that news media should “resist pandering to established constituencies…[and] spend less time debunking false information…[They] should aim to provide the truth, plainly stated, to as broad an audience as possible.” It’s easy to blame audiences for not evaluating sources and evidence, but the media can present its information without demanding such evaluation, increasing the spreadability of the message while ensuring the stickiness of the content.
This argument against segmentation essentially promotes returning to the news landscapes of the mid-1900s — and that just might heal today’s divide. After all, it couldn’t get much worse.