Thursday, November 17, 2016

Evaluating the Election 2016

Christine Holmes |

The 2016 election was the first of hopefully many that I’ll cover as a reporter. In 2012, I was old enough to vote and understand the process, but I wasn’t looking at it through the lens of a journalist. I first began dipping my toes in presidential election coverage over the summer during the Republican National Convention. Though I wasn’t in Cleveland, I still played a role remotely in the newsroom in Youngstown. I monitored the special RNC scanner feed, listening for protests, arrests, etc. I also wrote stories that localized the RNC. However, it wasn’t until taking our election coverage class that I really immersed myself in the practice. I had a few main takeaways from the class to carry with me into future elections.

Local Commitment

The first is the importance of local election coverage. This means not only taking national issues and finding local angles, but also going in depth in community ballot issues, state races and local races.

I spent the first part of the semester analyzing election coverage at several stations in Ohio, and I concluded that the best coverage came from stations that focused on their own backyard rather than regurgitating wire stories. It serves hometown audiences no good to produce the same stories they could find in the national news.

This concept was further emphasized when we researched and covered local election issues for WOUB as part of this class. We learned the importance of local news outlet coverage of such issues when we put it to practice.

For example, of all the people I spoke to in the city of Logan in Hocking County, few to none were aware of the decriminalization act on their ballot. And even if they knew of the ordinance, it was all legal talk and not easily understandable for the average citizen. That’s where journalists can help.

We were able to learn the issue and explain it conversationally for the voters to understand. Without our coverage, they likely wouldn’t have had much information on the ordinance, and if they did, it’s even less likely it was balanced.

Another approach to local coverage is taking national stories regarding the presidential race and finding a way to apply them to local interests. For example, one station’s coverage I examined took Donald Trump’s social media posts about the station’s city and turned it into a story. Other avenues could include analyzing claims candidates make and seeing how they could impact communities at a local level, or by talking to residents to learn their opinions on the election.

National Scope

On the national level, this election was a complete mess for several reasons. Firstly, there’s the issue of the polls. Nearly every poll projected Hillary Clinton to be the next president. Even I believed it based off what I was learning in my research methods class.

We looked at the predictions from statistics experts who took several polls to create a better sampling distribution in order create a more generalizable prediction. However, Donald Trump was elected president. This can be explained by what was most likely a systematic error from the pollsters- so many new voters turned out this election and weren’t considered in the initial polls to account for sampling error.

No matter the explanation, it won’t make up for the loss of public trust. Those not in academia or the news media see the polling mistakes as the fault of individual news organizations like CNN and the New York Times. This leaves the future credibility of the polls at question, as well as the public perception of news outlets.

Also tarnishing the reputation of news media was president-elect, Donald Trump. He convinced many of his supporters to distrust the media and believe in a conspiracy that news outlets had a left-leaning agenda.

Though content analyses prove that the coverage of Trump received more coverage than Clinton, he was still able to convince people otherwise.

Even the New York Times issued somewhat of an apology to its readers for straying away from its core journalistic values during the election season.

Despite his claims and distaste for the media, Trump managed to attract national spotlight without spending much on advertising. He knew how to catch the attention of the same media he scrutinized, and pulled off a win no one saw coming.

The Future

Moving forward, journalists will need to regain their credibility. This doesn't mean their credibility come four years from now during the next election, but their credibility starting last week. Numerous studies show the decline in Americans' trust in their news sources, even before the election. So now, more than ever, journalists need to live by ethics codes and report the truth.

With Donald Trump as president, the job will be even harder. He continues to almost slander the news media. I'm also fearful of the lack of coverage he will allow in the White House. The pressure is on journalists to hold their ground and stand up for the integrity of journalism these next four years.

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