Cronkite School Addresses the Election: What Happened?

Cronkite School Addresses the Election: What Happened?

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism held a special occasion discussion on Wednesday, Nov 9, in light of a shocking presidential election result.

The discussion was moderated by the dean of the school, Christopher Callahan. The panel, which was Skyped in, included Leonard Downie Jr., former Washington Post executive editor, Eric Newton, former Knight Foundation executive, Andrés Martinez, former Los Angeles Times editorial page editor and Julia Wallace, former Cox Media Group executive and Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor-in-chief.

The expert panel was assembled to discuss the ways the news media failed in its coverage of the 2016 presidential election. Callahan began by asking the panel some questions and the night ended with questions from students.

The first question, posed to Downie, was simply, “Did we miss the story? Is there indeed something fundamentally broken with journalism?”

“I think there’s several problems with the media coverage this year,” Downie said. “First of all, the media was very sophisticated but overly focused on the coverage of campaign activities. I’ve never seen such detailed coverage of campaign money … all that focus on campaign money was besides the point.”

Downie said that the focus on the “ground game” was beside the point in this election. That the media spent too much time listening to the field offices and campaign workers, not paying attention to the people at home. He also said there was a disproportionate amount of focus on what the candidates said.

“That may sound silly because obviously what candidates say is important, but there was so much focus on what they were saying as theater, as entertainment,” Downie said.

Julia Wallace said that the media was so fixated on talking to other media members and talking to the experts that media didn’t listen to the people who were actually going to decide the election.

As the night continued, the panel spoke to their limitations, with the press being concentrated in big cities. Eric Newton said that the journalists may have missed the ways of thinking by rural areas, such as issues like gun rights, because they are so concentrated in cities which tend to be liberal.

“I think that part of (journalists) not getting out of the office is not getting out of the city into the land around us … geography, when you look at the map, is really hard to ignore.” Newton said.

The night was filled with somber reflection and each member of the panel explained the challenges the media faced moving forward. The group asked whether the journalism world was moving toward a partisan press.

“I do wonder if the aspiration … of objectivity is too hard of a sell these days in our culture,” Martinez said. “Certainly cable television has now embraced the English model of consumers wanting their media with a point of view. You have plenty of high quality newspapers in Britain that are identifiably conservative or liberal. It doesn’t mean you abandon your responsibility to be factually accurate, but people who consume the news know there’s a point of view associated with that.”

Callahan said that he felt it was important for students to hear from the experts fresh after the election. Callahan said students should learn from what he thought was the biggest U.S. political story of our time.

“We missed (the story) by a wide margin,” Callahan said.

Adrienne St Clair, a graduate student at the Cronkite School, asked for advice on how to still feel motivated about journalism and doing good through it. St Clair said her peers had been extremely negative post election, some even talking about moving to Canada.

“I got into this field of journalism thinking that I could do a lot of good,” St Clair said. “I don’t know if that’s me being doe-eyed or naïve, it makes me … uncomfortable to think that (my peers are) throwing in the towel.”

Downie responded that journalism is a calling and that it’s more important than ever for journalists to do their jobs. The rest of the panel encouraged St Clair. Wallace said her “doe-eyed enthusiasm” will help her figure out the future of journalism.

“If you get up in the morning and what you want to do is find out what’s going on and tell people the truth, or the closest to the truth you can come, you’re a journalist and you shouldn’t be anything else,” Newton said. “No matter what happens.”



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