How Hamilton gave media their mojo back

How does an editor know a story will be big?

Knowing a big story intuitively is one of those skills that becomes more and more important the higher up the food chain an editor sits. But it gets harder and harder to work out the answer to that question as an editor’s readership scope goes beyond what he or she can see.

That crucial ability becomes muted in a Facebook-dominated world with no newsstand sales or web site analytics to track, a world where filter bubbles are reinforced by opaque distribution. If you can’t feel what your readers care about you’ll just be guessing.

Despite these challenges that uncanny editor’s spidey-sense kicked in this weekend when a stage actor delivered a passionate plea for diversity in America to VP-elect Mike Pence who was sitting in the audience.

How did editors know this would take off? There can be no doubt they were right.

Topic performance for Hamilton story. Source: Kaleida, Nov 2016

All the publishers we are tracking covered the story. We’ve seen about 40 articles, videos and cartoons, so far. And all those pieces are performing well.

In fact, they are performing so well that articles about the play Hamilton, the actor Brandon Victor Dixon and the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda are outperforming stories about everything in the news other than Trump and Obama. When you remove the presidential outliers, this is what you get:

Kaleida data, Nov 2016

As a percentage of total coverage stories about them are even more positive than stories about Michelle Obama. And that’s saying something.

Regardless of political slant people love a good David vs Goliath story. Clinton, mainstream media and the status quo were the Goliath to Trump’s David. He slayed his giant with a relentless onslaught of soundbites, but the tables turned quickly. The people want him to do the listening now.

One thing we can be sure of is that mainstream media is changing its tone. Coverage since the election result is clearly more neutral than it was prior to the election when the positive and negative tone was much more dramatic. Trump coverage is normalizing.

The normalization of Trump coverage. Source: Kaleida data, Nov 2016

On one hand that may seem like acquiescence. But maybe that’s how to rebuild the trust that was lost in the build up to the election.

Perhaps something more profound is happening. Maybe publishers are relearning how to apply their resources and assert themselves in the new post-truth world.

When Trump reacted by demanding an apology for speaking out in this way he solidified his Goliath position vs the people’s David.

Most editors will intuitively understand pressure from the President to behave the way he expects them to behave as an indicator of things to come.

That kind of relationship with power is one they know how to deal with.