Last year was supposed to be Breitbart News’ coming out party. The web-based political commentary site was hugely popular with many in President Trump’s base, and the brand was heavily touted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a place once reserved for the very kind of “establishment” Republicans that Breitbart often skewered.
With political outsider Trump in the Oval Office, and his supporters’ brand of hope running high, there was plenty of room for the brash, often reviled Breitbart and its top man, Steve Bannon. In fact, Trump flaunted conventional wisdom — and many established GOP advisors — by bringing Bannon into his inner circle. Because of his association with Trump, Bannon’s star rocketed, and he brought his publication with him. He was received with raucous acclaim at last year’s CPAC. He was the new “it” guy in GOP-leaning media, a brash and unapologetic partisan with definite ideas of what should be done and who should be doing it. Millions loved it. They gravitated toward the “hipshot” style and the take no prisoners approach to reporting on the day’s events.
What a difference a year makes.
Now Bannon is out of the White House, though why, how and to what extent differs depending on who’s telling the story. There was fury from the White House over leaked comments attributed to Bannon in a recent political tell-all book, “Fire and Fury,” and many Trump supporters were happy to show him the door. Then, it appeared that Bannon’s influence at Breitbart was shifting. But that wasn’t the only change. At this year’s CPAC, Breitbart has a much smaller footprint and lower profile. Bannon, some networks are reporting, didn’t even show up. There were Breitbart reporters covering the event, where at least one editor spoke.
So, there were questions surrounding what changed and why. Breitbart, as is its reputation, was quick with an answer. The company said it plans to focus resources on other areas, because, “times are tough in digital media …”
Others say this is just a smokescreen, that the brand wouldn’t have such a limited role at such a major GOP event unless they weren’t given a choice in the matter. So, while the “truth” of the story is still up for debate, there’s one thing that’s not: Breitbart needs the Trump base to keep its place among other serious right-leaning media. Without the status gained by association with the President, Breitbart could easily slip back into the pack of other right-leaning web-based outlets trying to get a piece of a pie that isn’t really getting any bigger.
That’s a key challenge in the partisan media business. When you’re all chasing a relatively consistent pool of consumers, you have to hold ground you take. There’s just not enough of a market base to go around, and there are new properties trying to gain market share all the time. Does that mean Breitbart is in dire trouble? Not really … at least not at the moment, but their trajectory certainly isn’t what it was this time last year.