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The pendulum starts to swing back

“Donald Trump’s media diet, which is frozen in the 1980s, has pulled perceptions of the whole media industry — publishers, advertisers, politicians — into a kind of time warp.”

The president of the United States is, among other things, the media-consumer-in-chief. Presidents elevated the new media of television and radio and, with the arrival of the post-boomer Barack Obama, the internet. But Donald Trump’s media diet, which is frozen in the 1980s, has pulled perceptions of the whole media industry — publishers, advertisers, politicians — into a kind of time warp. The most important platform is, once again, linear television. The most important consumer is a white man in his 70s. The front pages of print newspapers — The New York Post! — shape policy. The president loves Twitter — but that’s because he’s realized that it’s a powerful tool for programming what he sees as the real medium, television.

The last two years have created a kind of illusion that legacy media will live forever. If Donald Trump is obsessed with Vanity Fair, maybe the challenges facing print aren’t as bad as everyone thought.

The midterms dispelled the widespread illusion that Trump and the world he’s shaping aren’t subject to the laws of gravity and time. His defeat in the midterms reminded people that human beings under 50 continue to vote, participate, and exist. The culture is increasingly dominated by a diverse new generation native to the media that, just a few years ago, were obviously ascendant: Social, mobile, global.

And the Democratic primaries, in their capacity as the greatest political show on earth, will remind everyone that these new media matter. Voters under 50 are mostly Democrats; and candidates will try to reach them as Beto O’Rourke did in Texas: where they are, in the their native language. The pendulum of media and advertiser perception that has swung, bizarrely, to the past is likely to make its way back to the present.

Ben Smith is editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News.

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