Stop flying over the flyover states

“We have to stop thinking of these people as subjects we cover and relate to them as neighbors, friends, and readers we make journalism for.”

Donald Trump’s victory left us with an overarching feeling that the media doesn’t really know all of America. While I don’t think more coverage would have completely negated the bad polling, we know we could be better at not only covering major news events in the area between the coasts, but truly understanding the people and culture there. We’ll see a renewed focus on covering the Midwest and South in 2017.

rachel-schallomFull disclosure: I am from the Midwest, and I own a “Midwest is Best” tank top. As Nelly and I both say, I’m from the Lou and I’m proud. I’ve been away from home for almost five years, and the difference in news coverage is undeniable. This goes both ways — there are Missouri stories that should be picked up by national outlets, and there are national stories presented differently in the Midwest than they are on the coasts. We cannot deny that the conversations about immigration and health care differ depending on where you live, and we have to do more than publish “how to talk to your family at Thanksgiving” guides. If we want to create a more inclusive, more unified readership, we have to at least speak the same language. As Trump wages a daily battle against the media, it’s crucial we connect to people who have felt disconnected from us. And that cannot be accomplished by sending a national reporter to cover a shooting, deadly tornado, or protest. We have to stop thinking of these people as subjects we cover and relate to them as neighbors, friends, and readers we make journalism for.

This is already in motion in some places. For example, The Washington Post is hiring for an America editor role. Diversity in newsrooms will expand to include the region you call home, and hiring managers will recognize the importance of including voices from across the country (but do not use this as an excuse to distract from hiring people of color from everywhere). We will see more national outlets investing in remote reporters and opening bureaus in Midwestern and Southern cities that aren’t named Chicago or Atlanta. This is a good start, but it presents challenges of its own. We need to make sure these remote workers have the same access to resources and have their voices heard by upper management, especially when they are women and people of color.

Hiring for these roles will be tricky. Most journalists choose where to live based on the best job available to them, but it’s hard to invest your life in a place that doesn’t have many other national news outlets. If you’re based in Kansas City and there are layoffs or you want to move on, you’ll likely be faced with moving your family and starting over. This may be fine for entry-level reporters, but it’s a riskier move the more experienced and established you are, and it’s exacerbated even more for those in management. We will be forced to face this vicious cycle of coastal-congested media if we truly want to cover the country inclusively.

Rachel Schallom is senior manager of interactives for Fusion.

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