Editorial: Crunch Time

In June, Donald Trump tweeted out “Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama—but nobody else does!” Five minutes later, Hillary Clinton’s twitter responded with “Delete your account.” It was a “mic drop” moment as the cool kids would say. Four years ago, who would have thought we would be witnessing a Twitter feud between two presidential candidates? Or that any reporter would spend time discussing their tweets as a news item? But that’s how the current media landscape is now.

A January Pew Research Center survey (pewrsr.ch/29OOaYG) found that 44 percent of U.S. adults reported having learned about the 2016 presidential election from social media. A July survey found 24 percent have turned to the social media posts of Trump and Clinton for news and information about the election.

Pew’s survey also found that television was the most common platform for learning about the election with 78 percent of U.S. adults, then digital (news websites/apps, social media, emails, etc.) at 65 percent, radio at 44 percent, and print newspaper came in at 36 percent. With more available news sources now this election year compared to the last one, how can newspapers reach voters effectively?

Voice of America reported that during a panel discussion on media at the International Leaders Forum in Philadelphia, Politico editor Susan Glasser said as more platforms for news sources emerge, it broadens the conversation to “a whole new ecosystem of websites and online magazines…it’s not just one conservative outlet and one liberal outlet but a whole new way to extract information according to your partisan preferences.”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan asked in a recent column, “How should the media recalculate in the months before Nov. 8, especially given the sharp divisions in the country?”

“We should remind ourselves of the fundamentals: Journalists’ most important role is giving Americans the information they need to cast their vote,” Sullivan wrote.

Whether that information paints a presidential candidate in a good or bad light—as long as it’s the truth—that information should still be shared. Last month I wrote in my editorial that we should defend unpopular speech, not ban coverage that doesn’t please a candidate, but unfortunately, it’s still happening. Politico reported that Trump may take away press credentials from the New York Times because of the paper’s “very dishonest” coverage of him and because “they don’t write good.” (I’m sure every journalist rolled their eyes when they heard that.)  If that happens, the Times would join other news organizations Trump and his campaign has banned, like Politico, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed and Univision.  Despite Trump’s implication of banning the Times, his vice president Mike Pence said in a radio interview the campaign would consider lifting the media blacklist. But that hasn’t happened yet.

The panel of journalists who spoke in Philadelphia seemed to agree that “the more a campaign can shape a narrative, the harder it becomes for journalists to present objective truths.” If the media allows these presidential candidates or any other politician to dictate the headlines, the truth will get lost.

So, I agree with Sullivan that the media needs to “recalculate.” For me that, means report the information accurately, focus on the issues, and be an advocate. As the November election nears, it’s crunch time for journalists. Yes, there is division in the country, there is fragmentation among news platforms, but here is a chance for newspapers to be the solid ground for voters.

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Published: September 2, 2016

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