Exceptional events call for exceptional coverage


The Appalachian Online

Carl Blankenship

In the wake of Donald J. Trump’s historic political upset, major outlets have been reflecting on coverage failures leading up the election.

A pollster ate an insect live on CNN, The New York Times publisher criticized the publication in a letter to readers, and their policy editor wrote a piece noting their lack of outreach to American voters in their coverage.

News organizations ran their election coverage like a sideshow. They leaned on polls, debates and rallies rather than the broader views of the public to inform their content over the past few months.

Endless stories about Trump’s outrageous statements and behavior during debates was not complemented with robust coverage of the people who would ultimately vote for him, and why.

To be fair, the nature of this election was unprecedented. The usual suspects for sources: politicians, experts, polls and events did not give a full picture of what was on display this cycle.

This is not to say there was an anti-Trump narrative in the media per se, just that there is a consensus on how to cover elections that didn’t apply to this one.

Trump supporters were also covered as a side show. The loud, jeering crowds at his rallies made for interesting coverage while we failed to see the reality of his looming wins in traditionally blue Rust Belt states.

Even The Appalachian fell down. In our Behind the Ballot issue we primarily spoke to political science professors and students with liberal leanings. Admittedly, Trump supporters were difficult to find and often unwilling to speak to us, but we did not bend over backwards to find them. The completeness of our coverage suffered as a result and we lacked that additional public perspective.

We may never have another election like this. The old methods may come back in the next cycle and be fine. We could look back on this as an anomalous failure where the media did not adapt to the extraordinary circumstances. However we can not assume things will return to normalcy and should learn to not be complacent in our coverage.

This is a time for renewed skepticism of your favorite media sources. If you feel misled this election season and found yourself in a state of shock at the result, consider everything you read. We do not need to distrust the media, we just need to hold them to a standard, standards of coverage that explore all angles and topics within major issues and do not converge commentary and reporting.

More than anything, we need to support media that looks at prevailing narratives with a critical eye and not conflate punditry with reporting. There is not usually a wake up call like election day that shows longstanding predictions are wrong. Elections are unique because the results show a reality that news organizations do not.

Carl Blankenship is a senior journalism major from Kernersville, North Carolina.

Sammy Hanf is a junior journalism major from Greensboro, North Carolina.