Now more than ever, we need stories that will bring us together rather than pulling us farther apart. The media has an opportunity to bring to light these stories and redeem itself after what some are calling an “epic” failure this election season.
The media, many say, missed the story and “blew it” by not taking Trump voters seriously enough. The criticism, which has cut across political lines, raises important questions about the media’s power and purpose.
“The media is supposed to be a check to power, but, for years now, it has basked in becoming power in its own right,” Danah Boyd wrote in a blog post this week. “What worries me right now is that, as it continues to report out the spectacle, it has no structure for self-reflection, for understanding its weaknesses, its potential for manipulation.”
Boyd’s point about self-reflection is key. Media organizations and individual practitioners aren’t given enough opportunities to reflect on what they do, why they do it, and why it matters. Too often, this reflection comes from media critics, rather than the media itself.
The day after the election, media critic and CUNY professor Jeff Jarvis wrote a postmortem for journalism, saying: “Journalism lost sight of its simple, vital reason to exist: to inform the public. Think back on story after story and round table after round table and ask whether it was conceived and executed to help inform the electorate or instead to entertain them and grab their attention or make the journalist look like the smart one. Our job is to make the public smart.”
I would argue that it’s also the media’s job to help people understand differences. This means giving equal weight to liberals and conservatives, the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor. It means covering rural communities with as much vigor as bustling cities, without settling for cliches about Main Street and Wall Street. It means shedding light on questions like “why?” and “what happened?” It means reallocating resources and putting people before polls.