Journalists Strive for Media Transparency in an Election Dominated by Trump Political Coverage
“There, I played the race card,” said a woman who smacked the table then backed her chair away.
She was among 20 people at the Beacon Journal several nights ago discussing politics and news media, eating pizza and awaiting Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech.
“What if the things said by Donald Trump were coming from a black man?” she asked. He would have no chance of becoming a candidate, let alone president, she insisted.
Race not only haunts this election, but is at its core, she said.
But can we trust Clinton, others asked.
Over the course of two weeks, more than 40 Akron area residents came to the Beacon Journal on Thursday evenings to talk about politics and media and watch Donald Trump and Clinton accept their party nominations. Others were interviewed around town, all facilitated by the non-partisan Jefferson Center and paid for by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The reason: Journalists across Ohio want to hear how best to help everyone feel they are constructive participants in the democratic process.
Questions for the candidates, the media
They were asked what questions they have for the candidates, which information sources they trust, and which is more important: The issues, or character?
At the least, they said they are dismayed by the 2016 election. As one person described it, we’re in a reality television show in which we want no part.
“I feel like Rip Van Winkle and woke up to a society that’s foreign to me,” said Kathy Brennan of Cuyahoga Falls. “The politicians are different, society is different, the technology is different, the nastiness and ugliness is different. The whole atmosphere is not what it used to be. I feel disheartened.”
Some of the participants spoke on the record and some were granted anonymity so that they could express themselves without repercussions for their political beliefs.
One woman said she woke up in tears, worried for the country.
A Bernie Sanders activist was furious. He was channeling Donald Trump’s “rigged election” mantra, citing the recent leaks of Democratic Party emails showing the party worked to support Clinton over Sanders.
His candidate was cheated, he said, and major news organizations are part of an oligarchy that participated in the conspiracy. He asked if the Beacon Journal is owned by a news-manipulating conglomerate.
(The Akron Beacon Journal is owned by Black Press, based in British Columbia and owner of several small papers in the Northwest U.S. and southwest Canada and another metro daily in Hawaii. Ownership plays no role in news coverage and editorial opinion.)
Several asked: “Are Beacon Journal reporters biased?”
The quick answer: “Yes, but we try not to be.”
The longer answer: Reporters talk about their stories in and out of the newsroom to incorporate diverse viewpoints and data. Those stories go through several edits by people with different interests and sociopolitical beliefs. A diverse committee considers which stories go where in the paper and on the web.
A matter of trust
Voters don’t know who to trust as a source, and meanwhile, Trump is skilled at compromising the news feed, leaving opponents stunned, supporters energized and reporters distracted.
Beacon Journal assistant metro editor, Joe Thomas, our national editor for 13 years, posted on Facebook in the past week: “I cannot recall an election in which a single candidate has so overwhelmingly dominated the daily news cycle and social media discussions. …You simply can’t count out someone who succeeds so consistently at making people forget that there are other candidates in the race.”
That’s a news media problem, and that’s why the Knight Foundation funded the Your Vote Ohio project, which includes conversations and statewide polling to gain clear understanding of the issues most important to Ohioans.
David Trinko, managing editor of The Lima News in northwest Ohio, said the media initiative changed the way his paper covered vice presidential candidate Mike Pence last week.
“It’s done wonders on our election coverage already,” he said. Polling data that reflected what was most important to northwest Ohio drove the questions. “We got shut out of a one-on-one with him, but we still phrased the coverage in light of what they say they care about.”
In about a month, the media group will begin to address your issues in detail, one at a time, with data, perspectives of real people across the state, and the positions of Clinton and Trump.
Do you have questions that need answered? Questions you want posed to the campaigns? Questions about the media? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
The power of voting
My first vote for president was in 1972. With a draft number of five, I was at the front of the line for a trip to Vietnam, where 3,000 Ohioans already had died. My presidential choice was between an incumbent with a history of sending hundreds of thousands of young men to war, or a candidate who wanted soldiers home.
Voting was a matter of life and death.
What are reasons to vote today? Is it still life and death?
The Joy of Voting project, funded by the Knight Foundation through Citizen University, has provided grants to Akron area organizations to encourage participation in the election.
The Beacon Journal has partnered with the Jefferson Center and the Summit Education Initiative to ask young people to produce short videos explaining the reasons they want adults to be informed, happy voters.
As those videos arrive, the Beacon Journal will attach some to stories on Ohio.com, and there will be a celebration of all the videos in October.
The #thiscityvotes16 effort is one of five in Akron. Others are The Big Love Network, a project by artist Megan Young, Wandering Aesthetics and Engaging to Excel with Excellence. More information on those projects can be found at www.citizenuniversity.us.
This story from the Akron Beacon Journal is part of the state-wide media collaborative, Your Vote Ohio.