DETROIT — If you are a person of a certain age, it’s odd to drive down a major artery of a large metropolitan American city and strain to find a newspaper box at any of the crossroads.
That’s especially true in a city such as Detroit that has a storied history of competitive journalism that dug deep into holding power in check, whether it was city hall, the unions or large corporations.
It’s not that those papers are gone. The lack of boxes is partly because of contractual delivery systems and partly because of vandalism. But it’s mostly because we consume our news differently.
That consumption is contributing to a crisis in American journalism that benefits no one.
Turn on the television at any given moment of the day and you are likely to hear the anchor say “breaking news” at least 12 times in one hour. Go on Twitter and you are likely to see the hashtags #breakingnews #scoop #exclusive filling your timeline from reporters and news organizations in the Washington, D.C. and New York City newsrooms. And go on Facebook and you’ll see that half of your friends are posting stories from a left-leaning news organization’s take and the other half are posting stories from a right-leaning news organization, and most of them are declaring one or the other “fake news” with lots of words in all capital letters.
It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating. And it leaves consumers wary of how they navigate the news.
Here is the hard truth: No one is exempt; there is a shared responsibility in this lack of trust between the American people and the press, and unless we find a way to unravel it, that mistrust is only going to get worse.
Take my profession.
Beginning in the 1980’s, Washington, D.C. and New York City newsrooms began to be dominated by people who had the same backgrounds. For the most part, they went to the same Ivy League journalism schools where they made the right contacts and connections to get their job. And the journalists who came from working-class roots found it in their best interest to adopt the conventional left-of-center views that were filling the halls of newsrooms.
In short, after a while you adopt the culture in which you exist either out of survival or acceptance, or a little of both. Or you really just want to shed your working-class roots for a variety of reasons: shame, aspiration, ascension, etc.
So, when fewer and fewer reporters shared the same values and habits as many of their consumers, inferences in their stories about people of faith and their struggles squaring gay marriage or abortion with their belief systems were picked up by readers.
Same goes for job losses, particularly in coal mines or manufacturing. News reports filled with how those job losses help the environment are not going to sit well with the person losing their job. Also, just because they have a job that faces an environmental challenge does not mean they hate the environment.
For 20 years, these news organizations, along with CBS, NBC and ABC, were the only game in town. They served as gatekeepers of information, and as their newsrooms became more and more detached from the center of the country, consumers began to become detached from them.
Then, along came the internet. Different sources were now available, and news aggregators such as Drudge made it easy to find things giving everyone access to “alternative facts.”
The universe of information expanded, and it became clear that what Peter Jennings, Dan Rather or The New York Times told consumers was not the whole story. If you were a conservative (and a plurality of Americans self-identify as center-right), you lost all trust in the mainstream media.
It took 17 years for that pressure to build not only among conservatives but also among Democrats who came from a family of New Deal ideals and became weary of the constant misrepresentation and belittling of the traditions they held dear: church, family, guns and life.
The result was a populist explosion against all things big: big companies, big banks, big institutions and big media. The movement went undetected by the D.C. and New York centralized press not because they are bad people or because they had an ax to grind against the center of the country. It was because they just didn’t know them. They did not know anyone like them, or if they did, it reminded them of all the things they despised about their upbringing, and they wanted to correct those impulses.
And so, they missed it. They were a little shocked by the support for Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. They were really shocked by the support candidate Donald J. Trump received in the primaries. And they were really, really shocked by his win.
The problem journalists face right now is that they have never really acknowledged his win appropriately, at least not in the eyes of the people who voted for him.
Since the day he won, the inference that his win was illegitimate has been everywhere. It set the tone for the relationship between the voters and the press that has only soured since November of last year.
The press acknowledging Trump’s victory would go a long way to begin winning that trust back with conservatives and his broader coalition of voters.
Additionally, the American people need to do a better job of critically consuming their news and not crying victim when something is reported unfairly. Your knee-jerk reaction should not be to run to the conservative or liberal silo that says everything you want to hear and encase yourself in your own bubble.
Skepticism is good and important. Rapid mistrust on both sides, not so much.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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