It sounds as if there is some sort of a postmortem going on in the mainstream media these days. We saw plenty of hand wringing and soul-searching in the days and weeks following the election, as journalist wondered how they could’ve possibly gotten everything so wrong. What all of those discussions produced in terms of a game plan was unclear except for a renewed determination to “hold Trump accountable” no matter what happened. (One wonders where that determination was for the preceding eight years, but that’s a subject for another day.)
At the news desk of one outlet there may be signs that concrete steps will be taken to at least somewhat modify their approach. The Washington Post reports that NBC news anchor Chuck Todd began to expound on the subject at SXSW this year, admitting that his network missed out on a lot of stories by not having reporters out on the ground covering what was happening in the heartland.
The idea, said Todd in the interview, is to ratchet up contacts with rural America. “We didn’t go out there and hear the stories of the opioid crisis,” said the NBC News political director. “We may have reported on it statistically, but we didn’t do that person-to-person stuff. . . . Then you would get an idea, oh, these little towns, this opioid crisis, it’s connected to this lack of employment, which is connected to the lack of educational opportunities, which is connected to — then all of a sudden you realize, no wonder these people are so pissed off, and no wonder they think everyone has abandoned them. Their town looks abandoned.”
Summing up, he said, “I think it’s clear mainstream media needs to do a better job of reporting on rural America.”
Chuck is covering an important subject, whether you’re talking about the specifics of the presidential election, an addiction epidemic or the myriad other topics affecting the day-to-day lives of ordinary Americans. There has long been a perception that the press remains locked in both an ideological and geographic bubble, centered around Washington DC and the major urban population centers on both coasts. The idea that there could be something interesting happening in what’s commonly referred to as “flyover country” never seems to enter the minds of network news directors.
What’s missing from their formula is the fact that were talking about the vast majority of the country here. Not in terms of population, where California and New York City punch so far above their weight class, but in simple geographic territory. But it’s something even more than that as well. The culture of the citizens of this country is far from homogeneous and restricting yourself to conversations with people in Manhattan, Los Angeles and San Francisco is not going to give you any sort of sense of what’s really going on out there in the world.
It’s a bit too early to get our hopes up though, even after hearing Chuck Todd’s comments. You’ll notice that his remarks about opening up an office in Denver were immediately shot down by his own network. That could be a sign that this is just wishful thinking on Chuck’s part and not really something which has been embraced by the network executives. But perhaps they don’t need a Denver Bureau. Just getting some reporters out on the road from time to time and talking to the very real Americans who live in the other 95% of the country could go a long ways. Who knows what they might discover? One can only hope.