Feeling blue in a red state

“I hope the left-leaning elements of journalism (of which I would be a card-carrying member if we actually printed cards) take a minute for reflection before moving onto blaming only fake news and Russian hacking for the rise of Trump.”

Remember Kim Davis, the world’s most famous county clerk? In 2015, she was in the national and international news for months. Although state law required it, she refused to sign the marriage license of a gay couple. She went to jail. The press hoard descended on Rowan County in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

mary-meehanHow that story was covered shows a lesson in what I predict — or at least wish — will change in 2017.

An important part of the story was glossed over with images of Davis with her ankle-length denim jumpers. Same-sex marriage was now the law of the land in Kentucky, my very, very red state. And in nearly all of the state’s 120 counties — many of which still maintain Prohibition-era rules against selling alcohol — clerks did their job.

But the media, which usually only reports on my part of the country following a tornado, was soon mocking Davis and her religion, talking about her hypocrisy and divorces. That made her a martyr for the religious right. Mike Huckabee came to town. She was invited by a member of Congress to the State of the Union.

Meanwhile, in 2016, a day-long gay pride celebration was held in Rowan County. This time, no national or international coverage. The main organizers, including the gay man who had been refused his license, expressed concern for Kim Davis because she had become a worldwide symbol for bigotry and hate. They didn’t start protesting so she that would be vilified — they just wanted her to follow the law. Davis, as part of her job, helped the gay-pride group incorporate as a nonprofit. They see each other at Walmart.

The positive, affirming part of the story about a conservative place was overlooked. And the stereotype of Kentucky, and the South, was reinforced.

I’m a very liberal person living in a very conservative place. But I never believed in a media elite bias. That was before a Harvard professor told me that people who didn’t think deeply and often about cyberterrorism were “ignorant rednecks who will get what they deserve.” When talking about Appalachian culture, another academic said in all seriousness, “What culture?”

I learned that opinions outside of a certain liberal arc are dismissed and denigrated. That’s what happened to Kim Davis, who I disagree with, and Trump voters, who I also disagree with. But it also pushes people I know to seek ground in a space where they think at least part of their voice might be heard.

One of my best friends voted for Donald Trump. She is adamantly anti-abortion. I disagree with her. But I respect her and she has value to me beyond her political opinion as the funny, smart woman who babysat my daughter when I had to work more times than I could count, the friend who sat with me in the hospital in the minutes before I was getting a breast biopsy. She, and some members of my family, didn’t fit the media definition of Trump voters as idiots, lunatics, and racists.

It’s that drum beat that doesn’t fit the reality many people live in, and it’s why an increasingly large chunk of people tune us out.

The liberal bias bubble created a vacuum into which the most conservative voices were amplified as an over-correction. Republicans control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. All three branches of the Kentucky state government are under Republican control for the first time in 100 years.

My prediction for 2017 is more of a wish. I hope the left-leaning elements of journalism (of which I would be a card-carrying member if we actually printed cards) take a minute for reflection before moving onto blaming only fake news and Russian hacking for the rise of Trump. We can’t have a conversation, or help enact change, unless we listen and are willing to consider that something outside of our experience has validity. Looking at the South and Midwest through a different lens is part of that problem; I’ve seen changes I couldn’t have imagined in my home state growing up.

We have find a way to talk about rural poverty — not just the Rust Belt working class, but the white rural underclass. We all need to take a look at how we think about, and talk about, people who disagree with us if we ever hope to change anybody’s heart or mind. We have to meet people where they are.

And part of that is recognizing and celebrating that there are folks who love living out in the wilds of America. There are reasonable people who really do like their guns for hunting, folks who prefer venison for Thanksgiving. We are not all living out here because we can’t hack the big city life. We like it out here. There are stars.

Mary Meehan is a reporter for Ohio Valley ReSource and was a 2016 Nieman Fellow.

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Trushar Barot   API or die

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Mario Garcia   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream