Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is social media determining election results?

Alyssa King

There is no doubt that news coverage and social media are playing a large role in the election. Just how large is this role? While watching the GOP debate, I heard, "Who is that?" more than once when the camera turned to potential presidents that were not: women, reality TV stars or democratic socialists. I wondered how many people were seeing Ben Carson for the first time.

I was convinced that this number rose after Carson publicly commented and criticized the tactics of the students of the Oregon shooting. If not the problem, this is the reality. Google searches were filled with headlines about Carson's comment, and among the wreckage, a headline of how Donald Trump defends Carson's comments. The former reality television star manages to take up more space in news coverage by intentionally involving himself.

NPR's Audience Insight and Research department survey of 5,500 people, confirmed a "widespread hunger for accurate facts." If this is true, why doesn't more coverage follow the advice of Matthew Dickinson, a presidential historian and political scientist at Middlebury College? Dickinson advises that polls should be reported on and put into context.

While Pew Research Center did just that, I would argue the answer lies in the fact that journalism is still a business. Catchy headlines receive views. Sometimes catchy means suggestive, and this is where journalists find themselves in trouble. Over reacting to the momentum of the moment while reporting is not uncommon, but is damaging. Political journalists often make premature judgement and present them in a way that may be confused as factual information. Rem Rieder, AJR's editor and senior vice president, writes that this suggestive journalism can be compared to a sportswriter finishing a piece with time on the clock- assumptions are made. Any avid basketball fan knows that to make a decision with several minutes to go is a risky business. When this occurs we are not satisfying the expressed desire of the people's need for accurate facts.

There is a vicious cycle within the field that is hard to break. In both the republican and democratic debates we saw the same candidates receive questions and time, even when other candidates expressed their desire to receive their fair share of spotlight. This scenario is accurately reflected in the media's coverage of certain individuals, and exposing more of them means exposing less of others. Journalists are not covering the candidates equally. The effects of this are evident in what people know, or think they know, about those in each party.

According to The Atlantic, Trump has received the most mentions within the media. This is justified by journalists like national columnist Ron Fournier, who said, "We in the media are definitely fueling his rise. But on the other hand, we in the media may burn him up."

The Atlantic 2015

The argument seems valid, but I would argue that all publicity, even that which intends to "burn someone up" is good publicity. However, it would be journalistic malpractice to stop reporting on a newsworthy individual because they have already seen attention. Thus, the viscous cycle continues.

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