How Should We Look at Media During Future Election Cycles?

The media is a multi-faceted concept in today’s society. It no longer singularly represents print journalism, nor does it only call to mind 24-hour broadcast news channels. Now, media can represent both the network and the message itself, depending on how it is presented.

Essentially, the media is communicating to an audience by print, television, radio, video and online means. Regardless of the medium you choose to obtain your information, following this recent political election, how everyone, from political analysts to the common voters, views the media will never be the same again.

Social media’s role with the media

The Pew Research Center revealed that 65 percent of adults used social networking platforms in 2015, which is up from 7 percent in 2005. There are definite age differences, as nearly 90 percent of people aged 18 to 29 are on social media compared to only 35 percent of people 65 and older. Despite this gap, many researchers believe social media will continue to play an even more integral role in society in the future.

One area where social media has had a recent significant influence was in the political arena. Now, everyone from local representatives to presidential candidates turns online as one way to draw in political support. While social media has been an important part of the political spectrum for many years now, NPR wrote that it was this past 2016 presidential election that may have completely revolutionized how people view candidates through the specific lens of social media. People consume their news through social media, which sometimes distorts exactly what message they receive in the end. These messages are distorted over social media because users post and read media within a vacuum, where much of their friends and followers might possess the similar political biases. Thus, people’s viewpoints are reaffirmed every time they log online when they consume media that supports their own beliefs, regardless of how accurate the message may be.


The age of soundbites

There are two sides to the soundbite debate. On one hand, there is the practical, authoritative viewpoint where a 20-minute speech simply needs to be easily digestible to maximize the number of people who tune in to hear about it. On the other, there is the dangerous other side of soundbites where reporters or bloggers only reveal small snippets of the real message a candidate was trying to make. Many times, these comments may even be taken completely out of context, which further distances one political platform from the other.

Instead of holding long political discussions about policy and issues, many media watchers prefer hearing small soundbites that affirm their belief in their candidate or dissent against another. Depending on the source, these small bits of information can be framed in such a way that promotes or disagrees with select political contenders. Meanwhile, stories are built around these clips, resulting in further bias and confusion.

In a political profile for The New Yorker, President Obama warned that the current media climate “means everything is true and nothing is true … An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal – that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

Those just entering or already immersed in the political management field will need to account for the impact of soundbites and “piecemeal” media for future election cycles in order to successful reframe the message or refocus the platform of their candidate.

People don’t want the establishment

Trump’s voter base was energized by his anti-establishment rhetoric and political platform. These individuals voted for someone who they believed will reform the political system. Yet it is not only the main political parties these supporters are railing against. The main news networks and media outlets are simultaneously lumped into this anti-establishment sentiment as well.

Nieman Labs revealed that while there were many bi-partisan media outlets that targeted Trump during the election cycle, it was primarily liberal news organizations that consistently pointed out his most controversial moments. As a result, many of Trump’s supporters – who were already frustrated with the “liberal media” – began grouping everyone, from Democratic candidates to the mainstream media to even less right-wing conservatives into the “establishment” category.

Due to this media polarization, the average Trump voter now views the mainstream media with a lens of distrust, which could greatly impact future conservative political campaigns. In future election cycles, political management teams must carefully weigh which organizations they will choose to cater to and what stance their candidate will take on the media as a whole.

Pay attention to the power of fake news

Fake or “truthiness” news is quickly becoming the news of the future. The Washington Post even interviewed one fake news writer, who remarked that due to attention-grabbing headlines and a lack of willingness to fact-check, many Facebook users tend to skim – or even not read – and then repost many of these articles. President-elect Trump and his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski even posted links to many of this man’s articles throughout the campaign. The average user simply doesn’t take the time to consider whether or not the article might be completely factual.

Going beyond simple political reporting bias, many Americans are turning to these less reputable, even fake news sources in order to back their own unique political leanings. For example, it’s far easier to support a candidate when everyone else on your news feed is posting similar clickbait articles that create your own unique political vacuum online. You may grow to distrust news sources that do not seemingly report “the truth” you are seeing frequently on social media.

While it is vital that both biased and unbiased reporting is circulated online, from a political management perspective, fake news websites are extremely detrimental for any candidate. In this capacity, people are moved beyond simple facts and may latch onto “feelings” or beliefs about a particular political party or candidates that may be difficult to breakdown or examine in the future. Instead of believing facts and listening to the other candidate, fake news allows users to reside in a political bubble with those who think like them.

If you’re interested in the ever-changing political landscape, consider a Master’s in Political Management online from The George Washington University.


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