Post-election, how should news outlets shift focus?

As 2016 comes to a close, journalists and media outlets are confronting the questions raised by this year's election and planning for what comes next. James Geary, the deputy editor of the Nieman Foundation's Nieman Reports Magazine, joins the NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker to offer a post-election take on how the media can move forward.

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    For nearly 80 years, this 19th century farm house just outside of Harvard University's famed Cambridge, Massachusetts campus has quietly housed up with of the most well respected journalism foundations in the world. Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation was designed in the words of its founder Agnes Wahl Nieman to promote and elevate journalism. Since then, the foundation has functioned as one of America's preeminent spaces for journalist and industry leaders to study the news media. 2016, and the media ecosystem that surrounded the election has offered an entirely new chapter for journalism.


    The moment goes beyond just this election and this candidate and this president-elect. And I think it's about something really essential about journalism and about society as a whole.


    James Geary is the editor of the Nieman Foundation's "Nieman Reports" magazine. His post-election take on the media sounds like a seasoned sports broadcaster, analyzing how the game was played and what the industry must do if it hopes to improve.

    Like many others, Geary finds fault in the media's emphasis on the constant ebbs and flows of the contest, the horse race, and the industry's unwillingness or reluctance to report beyond the bubble of the campaign.


    The horse race aspect of the election, who is up, who is down at any given moment in the campaign is, you know, just like with the stock market. Whether the stock market is up or down at any given moment on any given day doesn't really tell you a lot about the underlying trends. And I think for a lot of — for a lot of the media, we have mistook the polls for the actual trends and the actual trends requires reporting, requires talking to people, getting outside of the newsroom, getting outside of the office and interacting with voters.


    Last month, Nieman published its fourth and final magazine of 2016, a collection of essays, part of an ongoing series examining what went write and what went wrong during the 2016 campaign coverage and what journalists should do next.

    Is there a responsibility amongst the consumers? And if so, where does that responsibility lie?


    Yes, I think news consumers, voters have stopped seeking out alternative points of view. And are increasingly just focusing on what they already know and what they already agree with. Of course, technologies and platforms like Twitter and Facebook make that very easy to do.

    And I think one of the things that we as an industry can do is to become involved in news literacy programs to visit local high schools or local colleges, community colleges, VFW lodges and have those conversations and try and impart the — some of the professional skills that we as journalists have developed to report factually, report responsibility and share some tips for how news consumers can spot fake news, and also make it clear why fake news is so damaging.


    But there's also a question of just who is doing the reporting.


    I think a lot of the tension around diversity has been race-based and having more journalists of color in the newsroom and that's absolutely vital and that's nowhere near where it needs to be. And that work needs to continue. But I think we also need to understand diversity more broadly. That diversity is also socio and economic diversity.

    Most newsrooms, in addition to being mostly white and mostly male, are mostly college educated. And I think what we've seen is people without a college education who feel most alienated by the media, and most turned off by journalism.


    In so many ways, the landscape is like a giant buffet table. On one side, you've got the high fructose corn syrup, and on the other side, you've got your vegetables.




    So, how can we again convince the public to really beat this metaphor to death, the diet needs to be balanced?


    Yes. What I think we do need to grapple with is that really great and really important journalism did not reach a significant portion of the population.

    Here at MIT, right down the road, there is a research project called The Electome, and they monitor twitter to see how political issues play out in a Twittersphere. Twitter is not at all a representative slice of the population but is a very representative slice of the media.

    And what they found in their research was that Republican-leaning people on Twitter stayed within those circles very, very clearly, and the same for Democratic leaning users of Twitter. And there was very little overlap.

    And I think if all the information we received is completely tailored to our preconceptions and our biases, then I think we as a society, we as an electorate have some serious problems.

    But I think there are things that can be — can be done to address that. And part of it could be a technological solution. Part of it could be more openness among journalistic outlets to collaborate.

    If Samantha Bee and Glenn Beck can sit down together for a civil discussion wearing festive holiday sweaters as they most — as they recently did, then I think there's hope for the rest of us, that news outlets could collaborate and cooperate to do the kind of work that they need to do and hopefully reach a wider audience.

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