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Moore: Is Election 2016 the End of The Mainstream Media?

Monday, August 29, 2016


I shouldn’t have to point this out, but the relationship between the media and politicians and government officials is supposed to be adversarial. That’s why if you’re like most people, and need to be liked or fit in, a job as a news reporter probably isn’t for you.

In fact, if a youngster is thinking about getting into the news business, it’s probably best if he or she is a misanthrope. 

The job of the politicians (and their advisers) is to present information in a way that makes themselves look good.  The media’s job is to present information as accurately as possible to the general public. 

Hyenas and Lions

Public relations people often refer to themselves as “facilitators”, but that’s always been a huge misnomer. It’s the members of the press—the reporters, journalists, commentators, etc.—that have traditionally been the actual facilitators of information to the general public. 

Politicians are to journalists as hyenas are to lions—natural enemies. 

At least that was once the case. But this year’s presidential election has got me thinking the dynamic has changed—and certainly not for the better. This year’s presidential election makes it seem like the members of the press, depending on what news organization they work for, are choosing sides, and reporting information in a way that makes their candidate look better. Or, what’s just as a bad, only presenting information that makes their candidate appear favorable. 

Both candidates have had statements taken out of context, by supposedly unbiased news organizations, to enhance the candidacies of their opponents. Most organizations are shilling for the Democrats. Fox News supports the GOP.

Hillary Loves The (Compliant) Press

A good anecdote that nicely sums up the state of the mainstream media occurred recently.

Keep in mind, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Presidential nominee, hasn’t held a single press conference this year. At a campaign stop in Nevada last week, a reporter had the guts to mention that it seemed like a good time for the woman who wants to lead the free world to actually answer some questions from the pool of assembled reporters, almost all from large, mainstream media conglomerates, Clinton laughed.  

Even more insulting, the Presidential candidate then suggested that the reporters be offered free chocolates from the candy store she was visiting since they’d all been “so wonderful, so cooperative, so hard-working” according to the United Kingdom based Daily Mail newspaper. Translation: so compliant. 

A Frightening Trend

Here’s what’s most frightening about the exchange. None of the reporters lashed out back at Clinton. None of them protested. None seemed offended that she was treating them flippantly. Apparently, her characterization of the press pool following her as “cooperative” is accurate.

If the press corps really intended on doing its job properly, they’d have all but raised Hell after being told to keep their mouths shut, know their place, and eat some candy. Instead, nothing happened. We wouldn’t know about it if a foreign press organization didn’t report it. I imagine a bunch of them sitting there eating chocolate as their notebooks remained empty. 

All of this is disconcerting. If the mainstream media is going to comport itself in a manner that’s compliant to the wishes of the powerful, it’s the American people who are going to be the big losers in the end. 

Alternative Media Will Come to Dominate.

None of this is to say that I support Donald Trump, but he has held countless press conferences this year and at least attempted to answer the tough questions. Yet on the whole, the media has been much harder on Trump than Clinton. Perhaps he has brought so much of it on himself, but the media shouldn’t be openly promoting candidates. 

So it should come as no surprise that the biggest applause at most of Trump’s rallies comes when he bashes the mainstream media. 

All this means that as we move forward, the mainstream media’s power will continue to erode as it loses the faith of the American people. It will be the alternative and foreign media that will fill the void. 
And the mainstream media will have only itself to blame.

Russell J. Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both for newspapers and on political campaigns. Send him email at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.


Related Slideshow: Seven Things to Watch in Media in New England and Across the Country

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The death of Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was the end of a political era in Rhode Island, but it was also the end of strong drive time dominance for WPRO AM.  Cianci’s former side-kick and WPRO veteran Tara Granahan has filled in for the past few weeks and the results have been poor at best.

An endless stream of advertisers have packed up their live read dollars and headed for the door. Equally, the show has been inconsistent at best. It has seems rudderless without Cianci and his collection of experts ranging from Gary Sasse, to GoLocal’s Editor Kate Nagle or WPRI’s Dan McGowan.

How long WPRO can stick with Granahan is anyone’s guess. WJAR reported that 1980’s shock jock Carolyn Fox interviewed for the position.

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TV No Longer Dominating Politics 

Jeb Bush spent upwards of $5,100 per vote in the Iowa caucus - primarily on television ads.

In contrast, Donald Trump is dominating the GOP field by leveraging endless earned media, a constant outgoing stream of Facebook posts and Tweets and a massive digital presence.

Both candidates — Bush and Trump —  entered the Presidential primary with 100% name recognition, but one is now the presumptive GOP nomination and the other is a political after-thought.

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Cumulus and iHeart Radio Groups Continue to Fail Investors

The two largest radio companies in the United States - iHeart radio (formerly Clear Channel) and Cumulus radio - are both trading at fractions of their 52-week highs. 

As of close of the market on Wednesday, iHeart radio closed at $1.07 per share — down more than two-thirds from its dismal 52-week high. Cumulus stock was at $0.27 per share.

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Spotlight’s Academy Award is a Critical Reminder

At a time when local media is in the midst of dramatic cut backs, few newspapers or TV stations staff have any dedicated investigative resources. 

While some of the void is filled by new models of digital media, the days of hundreds of reporters in newsrooms is few and far between. Twenty-five years ago newspapers like the Providence Journal and the Hartford Courant had dedicated investigative teams, but today they have no visible presence.

The Spotlight Team at the Boston Globe deserves tremendous credit and all the accolades for uncovering and ending the institutional molestation of children. 

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Facebook May Be the Next News Delivery Platform

For many Americans, the news feed on Facebook is their primary source of news. 

While some criticize the seriousness of the medium, recent research from Pew unveils important learning about how Americans learn about the Presidential election. Cable News is the dominant source at 24%, and of the next three sources, two are digital — social media and digital news sources. Local newspapers are a non-factor at just 3%.

For 18 to 29 year olds, social media is the #1 source at 35% and digital new sites rank second at 18%.

Among 30 to 49 year olds, digital news sites rank second (19%)  just behind cable TV (21%) — local news papers is the primary source of news to just 5% of the demographic group.

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Hartford Courant to GateHouse?

Two things have taken place in the last couple of weeks that point to another big New England acquisition by GateHouse Media. Today, GateHouse owns the Worcester Telegram, the Providence Journal and 76 other daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly papers. 

First, GateHouse’s parent company has announced it will spend $180 million buying more newspapers, according to Boston Business Journal.

Second, the upheaval at Tribune makes a newspaper like the Hartford Courant a distraction at best and an anchor at worse. Tribune will be focused on revamping and driving profitability into assets like the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. 

Shedding the Hartford Courant might be a blessing for Tribune.

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Staff Changes and More

Dan Kennedy reports: Hilary Sargent has left Boston.com...(she) was instrumental in the relaunch of the venerable site two years ago as a mobile-friendly viral alternative for younger readers who didn’t want to pay for the Globe; she was featured prominently in this New York Times story.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley's Comment on Spotlight:

Spotlight is an important film for all impacted by the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse.  By providing in-depth reporting on the history of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the media led the Church to acknowledge the crimes and sins of its personnel and to begin to address its failings, the harm done to victims and their families and the needs of survivors. In a democracy such as ours, journalism is essential to our way of life.  The media's role in revealing the sexual abuse crisis opened a door through which the Church has walked in responding to the needs of survivors.


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