Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How Journalists Missed Trump's 'Surprise Win.' To get it right next time, start meeting and associating with people who don't work in government-Editor and Publisher, Tim Gallagher, 1/17/17

"They’re not controversial and they are not easy to report about. But they belong in our newspapers. They are voters." 

1/17/17, "Business of News: How Journalists Missed Trump’s ‘Surprise Win’," Editor and Publisher, by Tim Gallagher 

"The autopsy report on how the press missed the rising popularity of President-Elect Donald Trump has been written. Disagreements over the reasons might continue, but one thing cannot be argued: we need to be better reporters who write about the reality of America and not what we hear in our echo chambers.

After weeks of discussing with dozens of journalists and citizens, I’ve concluded these are some of the ways we should consider changing in order to be true to this profession.

Meet and associate with people who do not work in government. The typical path for a young journalist is to cover a government agency. The reward for a good job is covering a bigger government agency. The problem is that we indoctrinate reporters into the belief that government is a problem-solving entity at the center of the American way of life. 

We talk as they do. We report incremental movements in processes. We learn to explain Community Development Block Grants before we understand a private business’s balance sheet.

Many in American do not see it that way. Many Trump supporters saw government as a problem and journalists see it as a problem-solver.

Let’s resolve to first be relentlessly skeptical of government and second, to always meet and report on stories that have little to do with handicapping the next public meeting. Further, let’s commit to getting to know people and sources who walk their dogs, go to the car wash and shop at Walmart who do not work for the government.

Treat polls and “popular opinion” with the same skepticism. Between Brexit and the 2016 presidential election, we have seen two examples that challenge the accuracy of polls because of the methodology and the reluctance of voters to provide their true intent. Use polls as a data point and not a lead. Always report methodology and margin of error.

Fight the power. The election showed us the millions of people who do not trust the prevailing power structure. It does not meaningfully address the challenges in their lives. Bring those people into your reporting in a way that challenges the effectiveness of government “solutions.”

Be humble. Millions of Americans think of the press as the problem and not just because we are on the other end of the political spectrum. We have all met journalists who are arrogant know-it-alls. Who have forgotten that their job is to cover news, not comment on it. We are born with two ears, two eyes and one mouth. That’s a good ratio when considering how much time you should spend listening and observing and how much time you should spend talking. You can get more reporting done when your mouth is closed.

Report. Don’t conclude. Just days after the election, the AP reported on how Trump was filling his cabinet: “Trump’s hires were, at first glance, contradictory, though they fit a pattern of the celebrity businessman creating a veritable Rorschach test that allowed his supporters to see what they wanted.” That sentence is so wrong for so many reasons, but at the top of the list are its conclusions without attribution. Readers have been telling us for decades that they don’t want us to tell them what to think. They want us to provide facts so they can make up their minds. Vow to attribute, not opine. Disinterested might be the most important, yet infrequently spoken word in journalism today.

Be wary of the witch hunt. About 15 years ago at the Ventura County Star, after three days of top-of-the-front-page of my newspaper headlines bashing the chancellor of the community college district for examples of graft, my metro editor Marty Bonvechio came into my office and said, “We need to stop. This looks like a vendetta.” I was stunned, but eternally grateful for Marty’s stop sign. We need to see ourselves as others would. What we see as reporting facts can be seen as taking it too far when it appears to be orchestrated. We can argue that the press only reported what Trump was saying, had said or had done, but to many Americans, it appeared to be a blood feud.

Many Americans live simple lives. They prioritize their faith in church, charity and small accomplishments in family or in business. They’re not controversial and they are not easy to report about. But they belong in our newspapers. They are voters." 

"Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at"


Among comments at Editor and Publisher:



January 17, 2017 at 6:10 am
The fact that it took a lot of journalistic soul-searching to come up with these points is at the heart of the problem."


"Jerry Kurbatoff
January 17, 2017 at 6:50 am
In general, most journalists are liberal and most editorial boards are liberal. Every day journalists would discuss new polls and as the polling appeared to reflect an insurmountable win for Clinton, journalists got caught up in the emotional hype. The story line journalists continued to report was Trump was a joke and could never win the presidency. Journalists fell on the sword of their own elitism. They were ecstatic and drooling for election night to watch the political death of Trump. Journalists drank their own kool-aid."


"Darlene Prince
January 17, 2017 at 8:20 am
Really, talk to people who are not in government to find out what is going on in the REAL world? How many meetings did it take to figure that out? Pardon my skepticism, but as long as you hire “journalists” out of college with a built-in bias (thanks to the college) against anything conservative or even moderate, you are going to get the same results in the future that you got in the past. The TV journalist Diane Sawyer got out and interviewed the people who don’t make $100,000 a year but are trying to make it on $25,000 or $30,000 and even less. At least she is trying. There are more of them than of the $100,000 and more crowd in this country. Of course, they don’t give the swell parties and the great lunches that the upper crust gives, but maybe they are a little closer to the REAL world and to what is really going on in this country. Which is where any journalist worth his or her salt should be."

"Bob Watkins
January 17, 2017 at 6:59 am
Thank you, Mr. Gallagher. Good points, all. Polls. I suggest you ought emphasize the distortive impact of polls in America today. Seems to me all of ’em were left red-faced after this general election yet no news medium held pollsters feet to the fire. 2. More and more Americans interact on-line instead of in the queue at Wal-Mart or the front steps after church. Just how it is. Again, thank you for your piece."


"Denny Bonavita
January 17, 2017 at 8:01 am
Watch out for the “attributed.” That does not equate to “disinterested.” Way back when, as I sat in court with other reporter-friends waiting for a verdict in a headline-grabbing case, we had to write stories when there was no story. The jury was still out. So I turned to John and said, “What does this delay mean for the verdict?” He said, “Guilty. What do you think?” I said, “Guilty, too.” So we both wrote, “Veteran courthouse observers expect a verdict of guilty due to the length of jury deliberations.” Two points. 1. We have always done this cruddy journalism. 2. We ought to stop it."


"D Scholl+
January 17, 2017 at 10:26 am
It is about time someone in the media industry recognized all of this. It has been obvious for years. It is time for “journalism” schools to include a broader range of ideas and experiences – and they can’t all be “progressive.” They shouldn’t be in journalism to “change the world” and to “make a difference.”"


"Geoff D.
January 17, 2017 at 10:30 am
“Many American(s) live simple lives.” That sentence alone exposes the bias we simple Americans complain about. You don’t give your ever-dwindling number of readers enough credit. It’s not market fragmentation, business models or social media that is destroying the legacy media. People now know when they are not getting the whole story or just one perspective. It’s just that simple – people are now speaking truth to Journalism.


Added: Journalists viewed working class voters as colonial administrators would a primitive inland tribe:

"Will Rahn of CBS News accused the media of missing the story “after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on. This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness.”

Rahn said working-class people have “captured the imagination of journalists, who have come to talk about them like colonial administrators would talk about a primitive inland tribe that interferes with the construction of a jungle railway."...

11/13/16, "The Political World After Trump’s Win," Joe Lauria, Consortium News

"A new political force in America was unleashed on Tuesday and how the Democratic Party reacts to it could determine its future as a major party. Millions of discontented Americans who have lost out to the computerization and the globalization of the economy – and who have been disproportionately called on to fight America’s “regime change” wars – have made clear that they aren’t going to take it anymore. And any party or politician going forward better listen or they will be tossed out, too, including Donald Trump if he doesn’t deliver.... 

Media Also Repudiated

On the positive side, this election became a repudiation not only of the Democratic Party insiders, but also of establishment Republicans, Wall Street, celebrity culture (with famous people flocking to Clinton) and the mainstream news media. 

The shock to the American political system also is prompting admissions one would never have imagined hearing. On Fox News the morning after the election, a group of personalities (calling themselves “journalists”) were suddenly talking about class in America, a normally taboo subject.

One of them said journalists didn’t understand this election because none of them know anyone who makes less than $60,000 a year. Apparently, these pampered performers don’t even mix with many members of their own profession. I can introduce them to plenty of journalists making less than that, let alone Rust Belt workers.

Will Rahn of CBS News accused the media of missing the story “after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on. This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness.”

Rahn said working-class people have “captured the imagination of journalists, who have come to talk about them like colonial administrators would talk about a primitive inland tribe that interferes with the construction of a jungle railway: They must be pacified until history kills them off.” 

These are stunning admissions that would never have happened without this election result. But one wonders how long such introspection in the corporate media will last. After the mainstream media got the Iraq WMD story wrong and contributed to the disastrous 2003 invasion, there were a few halfhearted mea culpas but very little accountability.

For instance, Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt, who repeatedly wrote as flat fact that Iraq was hiding WMD and who mocked the few dissenting voices trying to warn Americans about the flimsiness of the evidence, is still the editorial-page editor of The Washington Post.

So, not surprisingly – with almost none of the “star journalists” suffering any career setbacks – the corporate media was soon joining more propaganda campaigns for more wars, which are mostly fought by young working-class men and women who actually do suffer.

The difference now is that this new political force of fed-up voters – who “came out of nowhere” as far as the Democrats and the media were concerned although these voters were staring them in the face might now force a re-evaluation. That’s because these voters are likely still to be there four years from now."

"Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe."


Below: Evidence of enthusiasm of two Pennsylvania Trump supporters. "A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won in Pennsylvania since 1988....1:41 AM ET: The AP calls Pennsylvania for Donald Trump."

Above, "April 25, 2016, Washington Post, "Why this Pennsylvania Mom painted her property red, white, and blue:" "Leslie Rossi painted her property red, white, and blue to drum up support for Donald Trump ahead of the (Pennsylvania) state’s Republican primary on Tuesday. Rossi believes this final push to promote pro-Trump delegates is critical to ensuring a Trump nomination. (Dalton Bennett / The Washington Post)"

Above, 4/28/16, "Westmoreland County (Pa.) house painted to promote Trump," Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "Leslie Baum Rossi stands on her property in Youngstown where she had a building of hers painted to show support for the Donald Trump campaign, on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Photo by Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review" 

Above, 7/3/16, "A Trump supporter’s house in Unity Township, in western Pennsylvania. Credit Jeff Swensen for The New York Times," "Donald Trump’s Appeal to Rust Belt Workers," NY Times, Steven Greenhouse

4/22/16, "The spray-painted 450-foot-long Trump sign in Ms. Ryan’s field in northwestern Pennsylvania. Credit via Lynne Ryan," NY Times 



AP (near end of article): Trump's win in Wisconsin was the first for a Republican presidential candidate in 32 years. His win in Michigan was the first since 1988 for a Republican presidential candidate.



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