My prediction for 2017 is more of a hope: I hope that fact-based conservative media flourishes, and takes its civic responsibilities seriously.
This election revealed, and widened, a deep divide in news consumption. We learned that historically centrist news organizations, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, are now considered irredeemably liberal and untrustworthy by half of the American public. Whether this perception is justified doesn’t much matter; it will take years for these organizations to regain the trust of conservative audiences.
Meanwhile, conservative media is a mess. Intellectual bastions such as National Review and Reason are losing out to conspiracy-theory talk radio and the extremism of Breitbart. Conservative media has become so inflammatory that even some of its own stars are worried. As Jeff Jarvis put it, “There is not enough — there is almost no — major conservative media that is responsible, fact-based, and journalistic.”
Where do you go for news if the traditional giants of journalism don’t reflect your way of thinking? If extremism is the only other thing on offer, that’s what you’ll get.
I hold no hope for centrist media. I think that ship has sailed, and from this point on American news organizations will divide along ideological lines. That’s been the trend over the last decade, and it’s how the news operates in most other countries. Instead, my hope is that conservative journalists will take their responsibilities seriously and produce smart, skeptical, and deep reporting on the Trump administration. Conservative audiences deserve no less, even if they never read the Times again.
But for this to happen, conservative journalism needs to come in from the cold. Most people in news organizations and journalism schools lean liberal. Investors have poured money into left-leaning operations like BuzzFeed, while it has been difficult for conservative news startups to find funding. Fox reporters are the pariahs of journalism gatherings, or aren’t invited at all.
That’s going to have to change. We need to figure out how to make our professional tent big enough for all stripes. What does responsible conservative journalism mean? Right now, I’m not even sure exactly where I would disagree with my conservative colleagues, because I so seldom talk to them. (I suspect many of them are afraid to out themselves.) And how do we embrace our differences without compromising our values? These are the tough questions that the journalism community urgently needs to answer if it truly aspires to serve all — and mount a unified defense against Trump’s attacks on press freedom.
I suspect this will not be a popular opinion. If you think that Trump won because voters are racist, a call to embrace “their” media might be the last thing you want to hear. It is also true that attacking the “mainstream media” has been a key strategy of the right for a very long time. But none of this can excuse a lack of self-examination. I believe that the giants of journalism lost trust, in part, because they did not reflect the experiences and concerns of people living outside the industry centers of New York and D.C. — two of the most solidly liberal places in the country.
Jonathan Stray is a computational journalist and a research scholar at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.