Journalism’s Biggest Blow

“This isn’t the beginning of the end, just the end of the beginning.”

Normally, you would read that line, adapted from a famous Winston Churchill speech, on a yearbook (like it was for my senior year) or graduation pamphlet. It’s an attempt to turn a rather sad event into hope for the future. But it’s also very much appropriate for something else we thought was coming to an end last week, and that was Donald Trump’s time in the spotlight. Instead, as president-elect, we will now only begin to watch an epic reality television show unfold, with the greatest of all stakes – the American system of government and U.S. citizens – in the crosshairs. Hopefully, we all win in the end, but it’s off to a rough start.

But this isn’t my political forum, nor is this a political post. Instead, it’s an explanation for how the media missed this call, entirely. Besides pollsters, it’s hard to imagine a single entity deserving of the black eye it now wears than what’s on the face of most news organizations. After all, Trump wasn’t suppose to have a chance to win, right. That’s what we were told for months now. It’ll be interesting to see if this mammoth mistake impacts the bottom line. Will New York Times customers unsubscribe? Will Huffington Post readers turn away? Will CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and all the likes have viewers click to new channels? It’s possible, but too early to say. Still, it’s worth figuring out what went wrong.

And there’s plenty of what went wrong to go around, from taking reports from Clinton’s camp as fact, to treating Donald Trump like a sideshow clown, as opposed to someone seriously vying for the most powerful position in the world. But you can hear about that from other corners of the Internet. Instead, I’ll focus on the growing gap between those living in cities, particularly coastal ones, and the rest of America.

As someone that was born in Kansas, grew up in a Texas suburb and lived in Austin, Washington, D.C. and New York City, and is currently living in a New York suburb (in a county that went for Trump, by the way), I hear all sorts of opinions. My Facebook feed, which I barely use, is filled with extremely conservative high school classmates, swearing that we’re falling into Socialism. On the flip side of the coin, I’ve met with and conversed with those that truly believe the Christian right has the heart of blackness. But most of what I see and read throughout the day from friends and family members come from opinions that land somewhere in the middle. Reasonable solutions, coming from reasonable thoughts; not soundbites, polling data or stereotypes.

But that’s not the case for media. It has become a badge of honor to post headlines that are absolutes, similar to the extreme friends above. By doing so, they’re not only devaluing their own job – in that they’re essentially laughing off the most ridiculous of comments – but the media is also ignoring and pushing further left or right, all those people who see room for compromise. They’re doing this, because every time someone turns on the news or flips through the paper, there’s no sign of compromise anywhere.

What the media isn’t doing, is going out to these areas that have become staunchly conservative (in this case) to see how Americans really feel about the presidency or the issues involved. Instead, it’s a quick denunciation of those that voted for Trump, labeling them as racists. There’s no doubt, that race played a role in this election, and based on certain comments Trump made in the campaign, it’s shocking he ended up winning. But it’s also avoiding a tougher conversation to have, one that’s addressing why people are concerned about their security, job and livelihood. Sadly, the media ignored this, instead jumping for the quick headline, and allowing shock-jock tactics to shape the election conversation.

Yet, Americans are having less and less chance to partake in these talks between reasonable people who seek compromise. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in a TED Talk, explains this in further detail, but essentially we’re moving to areas that match our ideology more than ever before. This means, we may go through an entire election, living in a bubble, completely void of hearing what reasonable people from the other side of the aisle have to say on certain issues. And there are plenty of reasonable people on both sides of most issues.

The media should have provided that bridge between these areas, where the access to a wide variety of voices isn’t available. Instead, it just fanned the flames. And as a member of the media, it’s highly embarrassing, one that will be difficult to recover from until we’ve proven we deserve another chance.

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