Donald Trump and American News Media: What the hell?

Throughout this entire election, Trump has been claiming the media is against him.

If you consider news media as “earned media,” as in someone’s done something to gain it through their own merit, Trump has earned this media in the worst way. In communications work, news articles are considered valuable like advertising. But sometimes more valuable, because it comes from a credible source.

Unless it makes you look like a fool. I fear Trump is the master of that — before the press reports on it.

Does the media hate Trump?

The first answer would be no, obviously not. They cover almost his every move. They decimate the news of his misogyny, racism, and irrationality. I don’t doubt that reporters and editors alike hate Trump. But they consistently publish him.

I’m curious to see what profits have been like throughout this election. Do papers with Trumpisms sell better than ones covering the current natural disaster, state politics or Hillary’s campaign? I wouldn’t be surprised if they do.

But Trump is adamant the news media hates him, or wants to ruin his image. From what I can tell, he’s playing this card deliberately. He knows the news has to cover him. He knows he’s a controversial topic, and that conflict is very newsworthy. Or at least someone running his campaign knows this.

People who work for the media may hate Trump. But as a system, an institution, the news media is running smoothly with Trump’s performance.

He hits every newsworthiness value. He’s bizarre, prominent, timely, current, and close by. His words have impact. His story has human interest (the fate of America). Most of all, he is a source of conflict on every scale. As far as the machine of mass media goes, he deserves the coverage he gets.

What’s that mean?

Media today is much different than 30 years ago. People can get information from where ever they choose today. This leads to things like Facebook showing us stuff it knows we like. People tend to like seeing media that affirms what they already believe. People like to feel right, and they like to feel part of a group.

If you’re not reading the news, you’re still hearing about Trump. Probably from more biased sources. And that’s fine.

The news is publishing stories on Trump, not only because of the newsworthiness, but because people want to read it. People talk about scandal, and Trump is most scandalous. People want to hear he’s a horrible person, they want to hear the things he says that makes him a horrible person, and they want to do this all together.

The trick with news media is this: if you will read it, they will print it. News is business. They need customers. They need your eyes. And if you’ll read it, they will print it.

Can it be different?

Ideally there’s a way to inform the public about the presidential debate without spreading Trump’s hatred. And ideally journalism is unbaised. But really, let’s brainstorm some ways to cover the election without spotlighting Trump’s idiocy.

  1. Focus on the policy. This can be a challenge, considering the amount of actual policy Trump talks about. But even then, lack of policy can be news. Trump’s unedited quotes don’t need to be circulated. Trump’s comments about his daughter can be circulated online by Twitter users, memes and tabloids. Distinguished newspapers could do the research and interviews to produce meaningful content about the election including policy talk and political stance.
  2. Highlight other contenders. It may not be easy to tell, but Trump and Clinton aren’t the only people in the race. A person named Jill Stein exists too, and she’s also running for president. She might not be as inflammitory or conflicting, but she’s a valid candidate. And she likely has some things to say about policy. And she likely has some things to say about Trump. Can we frame the discussion around this election through the experience and voice of a legitimate politician?
  3. When in doubt — streeters. If Twitter and Facebook are covering Trump’s obscenities, and memes do enough to circulate Trump’s “policy points,” then who should get the spotlight of the news media? I bet there are plenty of people voicing loud, strong opinions about this election online every day. If newspapers can find the popular posts online, find differing or informed opinions, and approach those people for quotes, that could be another route for coverage. Who will this election impact the most? Let’s ask them what they think.
  4. Cover something else. Sure, the American election is a huge deal. It’s everywhere all the time. And sure, it sells. But there’s plenty of other things happening in the world. Make Trump share a page with Hurricane Matthew. Make Trump share a page with Jill Stein for goodness sake.

I’ll admit, it’s important that news outlets share things like the recording of Trump’s comments promoting sexual assault. News media can provide the commentary (through quotes) about how negative this impacts women, society, and how republishing such comments can be harmful. But it’s important to remember, there’s a whole Internet full of media. Someone’s got it covered. Maybe it doesn’t deserve the front page of the print edition. Maybe some sharp political analysis, or coverage of actual policy plans deserves that spotlight.

What would you do different?

Seriously, how would you cover the trainwreck that is Trump’s presidential campaign if you were news media?

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