The 2016 presidential election season certainly has been one for the history books. And it’s given us all a lot to talk about. PRSA Boston and the Publicity Club of New England recently gathered the local PR community and offered a panel discussion, “The 2016 Presidential Election: A Media Perspective.”
John Carroll, assistant professor at Boston University, moderated the panel that featured Lauren Dezenski, POLITICO reporter; Evan Horowitz, policy writer for The Boston Globe; and Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group. The discussion covered this election campaign season, calling it “a season of many firsts” and addressed the changing role of the media in the presidential election and politics in general.
The Role of Social Media
Social media has played a crucial role in this election — ranging from unfriending on Facebook over election posts to real-time monitoring of candidates’ social media pages. Twitter, specifically, has had tremendous influence over the electorate. Voters are no longer turning to pundits for opinions and political commentary; instead, they are turning to Twitter. More than any previous election, social media has played a large role in how quickly news spreads throughout the country. In fact, news has reached such a pace that the public hardly has time to process one story before the next sound bite hits them. All of the panelists noted this election cycle seems to support the theory that “the more you are in the news, the worse you are doing.”
Regardless of their political parties or personal opinions, this election has changed the way reporters cover candidates from outside mainstream politics. Case in point: Nominee Donald Trump has underscored the need for media to examine newcomers more closely. As Dezenski noted, “This election has forced reporters to reckon with a group of Americans they’re largely unaware of.”
A major struggle that everyone on the panel noted was the current and public distrust in the media. While journalists are obligated to report facts, we find that in today’s environment, everyone has a different definition of what constitutes truth or fact. Many Americans are repudiating facts because they perceive them to be grounded in bias — which has created an election forum where facts are no longer the foundation. As a result, reporters are struggling with accusations from both sides of the aisles and news organizations are left trying to measure how effectively they are communicating the truth to their readers.
People will always disagree about politics, particularly on social media, and this election has been especially polarizing. The American public requires a new standard of objectivity from news organizations, but it’s unclear how to bridge that gap. Looking to the future, the panelists agreed it will be interesting to see which organizations adapt to the changing landscape of the electorate, and what the impact the media’s coverage of this election cycle will have on coverage of our next president and future elections. Re-establishing the public’s trust in the media seems like a logical first step — but it has yet to be seen if anyone knows where to start.