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Old Habits Die Hard – The surprise election of Trump demonstrates the failure of journalism

Despite all the talk of news media becoming audience centric, holding a two-way conversation with readers and users, the near universal opposition and derision directed at Donald Trump clearly shows they continue (for the most part) to talk from high above their audiences, like a teacher lecturing down to students.

In the face of this dismissal – not only in editorials and op-eds, but in news columns as well – it is no wonder so many people are expressing shock and surprise at the US presidential outcome.  Consuming one-sided information left many unprepared for the possibility of a Trump presidency.

The blanket dismissal of Trump supporters as loud but limited bigots and racists — and the focus of coverage on this disturbing segment of his support – overwhelmed coverage of the underlying rage at establishment institutions and its root cause of economic inequality and cultural division.

This is an epic fail, particularly since it is now easier for news media to listen to their audiences, through digital means as well as by old-fashioned shoe leather reporting. They just have to be willing to do so. How then is it that so many millions do not see themselves or their views accurately reflected in news stories?

The New York Times, for instance, was taken to task by readers, one of whom said: “Perhaps the election result would not be such a surprise if your reporting had acknowledged what ordinary Americans care about, rather than pushing the limited agenda of your editors. Please come down from your New York City skyscraper and join the rest of us.”

As another observer put it: “Almost 70 per cent of Americans 25 or older don’t have a bachelor’s degree, their plight has been worsening, and the bubble heads in Washington, New York, Chicago etc. are completely out of it. There’s your explanation, that’s why this bombastic, slightly ridiculous and vulgar man will be our next President.”

My colleague Dietmar Schantin has been talking about an end to “this broadcasting mentality where the editor or journalist says, ‘I have all this wisdom and I share this wisdom amongst the crowd.”

“This has changed in some areas, with more media seeing themselves as a service to the community. But this cultural change will still go on for the foreseeable future.”

It appears that breaking old habits may be the most difficult part of digital transformation.  But break them we must. It isn’t enough to say ‘digital changes everything’ and then continue on in our merry analog way.

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