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In The Age Of Trump, We Need Good Media Now More Than Ever

The mainstream news media has hardly covered itself in glory during the Trump circus.

11/11/2016 12:11 PM AEDT | Updated 11/11/2016 12:12 PM AEDT
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"Already, news analysis reflects a sense that some news media outlets at least are prepared to nail their anti-Trump colours to the mast."

If, like me, your first move on the morning after "The Triump" was to search for news analysis, you will have to admit that we still need a means to help us rationalise the inexplicable. The mainstream news media has hardly covered itself in glory during the Trump circus that led to his place now as President-elect. Its narrative has enabled a dangerous and divisive figure to lead what is still (though perhaps not for much longer) the most powerful nation on earth.

But we need good media now more than ever.

The question we must ask of our news media now is where will they take the narrative in the Trump era. How will they explain the future? To this question, there are essentially two answers: where will it go and where should it go?

In very general terms, mainstream news media essentially went through five phases of reporting on Trump. I call them the Five F's.

Firstly, news media found him amusing and the media was in its Trump-is-Funny space. He was the running joke of the Republican primaries and got loads of news coverage on his entertainment value.

Then, Trump started gaining traction and the news media felt obliged to give him even more space. He became Fascinating as a reflection of widespread disgruntlement about the system.

Third, media slipped in behind Trump in its Follow moment. Everything he said or did was slavishly reported, often minus the critical angle or context that might have unhinged his campaign.

Then, something happened. News media Flipped on Trump. Some better-late-than-never soul searching generated a media version of a hit contract on the man. Unsavoury tidbits were exposed. He was scrutinised much more.

And finally, the media became Fearful that he might actually win the White House and the liberal media in particular unleashed a wave of sharp, subjective and savage coverage that challenged Trump as he had never been at any stage in the campaign.

Now, news media enters a new space. This is a moment where the mainstream news outlets can either stand and speak for the values that many of them have held to be important -- not least in the weeks leading up to the presidential race -- or seek to fall into line and to tell the new-normal narrative that Trump would like.

Already we have evidence that the latter is the most likely course.

News media outlets need access to their political leaders and those who cover US politics will be wary of getting the White House offside. Like Trump in his acceptance speech, many will look to adopt a more conciliatory tone to the Trump as POTUS than they did to Trump as Candidate.

Already, news analysis reflects a sense that some news media outlets at least are prepared to nail their anti-Trump colours to the mast.

The New Yorker's editor David Remnick tapped out a remarkable summation of the result within hours of its confirmation.

Remnick called the result a "tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism."

He went on to call the next President of the USA a "con" and added: "It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety."

And this was just in his first paragraph.

It will be hard for that publication to unravel its editor's line. It is certainly courageous.

But others have been less aggressive, at least given the evidence of US media's morning headlines.

Venerable publications such as the New York Times ("Trump Triumphs"), the Washington Post (also "Trump Triumphs"), the Wall Street Journal ("President Trump") and the LA Times ("Stunning Trump Win") all chose to click into objective mode after months of open hostility against Trump, in announcing the result.

The more emotive headlines came from overseas where media access is less an issue. For instance, France's Liberation headlined "Trumpocalypse" while Spain's El Periodico suggested "God Forgive America". Perhaps the most reactive was Mexico's El Grafico, which headlined simply "FUUUCK!"

If the temperate approach of the mainstream news media in America evolves, as seems likely, into a narrative that a Trump presidency is the new normal, then his victory will indeed be worth a lamentation of El Grafico proportions.

This is not the time, if there has ever been one, for news media to be timid and cowering. Sure, news media has taken a battering in revenue terms and in street credibility and in trustability ratings. But the best way for news media outlets to reverse these negative drains on their existence is to dig in and scrutinise, to be relevant again.

News media's social licence is offered only as long as it holds truth to power, informs the public and takes a stance on values like equality, fairness, honesty and respect.

Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote. This suggests a majority of voters in the US, and plenty of those outside the US, want President Trump's feet to be held very, very close to the fire he himself has fanned.

It is the media's duty to assert itself here and now and be the institution we all need.

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