Media Underplayed Trump Support; We Helped

Media Underplayed Trump Support; We Helped

In the wake of November 8, liberals have blamed conservative extremists, FBI Director Comey, the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and third parties supporters for the outcome of the election. However, a lot of the blame for the November surprise has been attributed to the media, for perpetration of fake news, for the failure of polls, and for the inability to provide balanced, accurate coverage. In response to the widespread criticism of all media that attempted to cover the election, The New York Times released a rededication to thorough reporting.  Many news sources (especially conservative ones) have published pieces suggesting that The New York Times was indicting itself for the mischaracterization of Trump. 

We concluded that The Times’ reporting on Trump and his supporters was accurate. The scale of his base may have been underestimated, but the Times’ coverage did reflect a struggling middle class gravitating towards a change-oriented candidate. It is likely that the Times did not fully cover Trump’s supporters because of a broader trend in the media to shift towards profit margins and away from providing universal service.  They have altered their business as advertising revenue has dried up.  The Time’s actions line up with a recent pattern in media in which sources look for new readers, but only from the same group or types of people who already subscribe to them.

The desire of specific groups to surround themselves with like-minded people has lead individuals to use social media to create ideological firewalls. Although social media could give us the opportunity to expose ourselves to opposing views, many of us are more likely to isolate ourselves.  We only choose to see the feeds of the people who agree with our views. The result is bubbles of distorted public opinion, which are out of touch with other perspectives and reality.

The same principle largely applies to the ways in which we consume news.  Despite understanding the merits of reading news from varying sources, few of us actually do this. News sources recognize this shift as an opportunity to divide and conquer various markets. News outlets such as The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Breitbart News have gravitated towards their respective political tendencies. These sources play to their set audiences, and have maintained revenue by catering to a core group of subscribers. The focus is no longer on recruiting new audiences; they each know their audience and try to draw revenue from their respective pools. The benefits of this strategy are based on reducing competition among companies of different political affiliations. Consumers have become loyal subscribers to specific sources that release different products, rather than being “free agents” to mainstream newspaper and news channels.

Aggregate news sites have attempted to reduce reporting bias and ideological bubbles by trying to encourage readers to read from a variety of sources. These websites and apps provide readers with a conglomerate of news in one place. But even glancing at the bylines on these sites reveals the original source, which often dictates which links get clicked and which are left unvisited. Moreover, aggregate sites are often partisan as well; sources like Drudge and Digg find and group articles that match their own political views.  

A lot of us were surprised on Tuesday, but all the signs were there. Despite our efforts to be informed about the election, the methods we used to stay up to date ended up insulated us from the complete truth. The New York Times did not falsify information, or wrongfully portray Trump. We are all guilty of playing a role in the formation of ideological bubbles. Times' readers chose to read what sat with them best, while the paper spent too many of its pages giving liberals what they wanted to hear instead of dedicating more time to blue-collar voices.

 

Photo istock.com/olya_steckel

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