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Going where the Acela can’t take you

“More voices from the middle need to be amplified, because we already know what the extremes are.”

I’m not sure if this is wishful thinking, a prescription or a prediction. But I hope and expect that 2019 will be the year that national news outlets, those with their East Coast/Beltway view of the world, start to get a handle on alternative ways of covering the rest of the country.

I don’t mean breaking news — newsrooms have hurricane and fire and tragedy down pat, for the most part. But a year from now, the U.S. media will be headed into full-on presidential election mode and we still haven’t seen widespread experimentation with new models for how best to report on the perspectives of those who don’t live in the national media’s largely coastal urban bubble.

The 2016 election coverage overall was problematic for many reasons. One was that even many people who paid close attention to the reporting came away feeling blindsided. Deep currents of political disaffection were welling up. The old models that newsrooms used for teasing those out didn’t work. Standard vox pops at the diner just don’t cut it anymore.

Many newsrooms are discussing this as they begin to put in place their election 2020 strategies. 1A, the NPR-distributed daily talk show that originates at WAMU in Washington, D.C., has a two-year plan to work with public radio stations in six states to broaden the national conversation. Public radio’s long-discussed goal to put in place much more robust local-national collaboration is finally coming together and could offer a model for coverage that feels like it’s coming from the ground up.

We need all this and more, as newsrooms embrace ways to go deeper into communities. More voices from the middle need to be amplified, because we already know what the extremes are. I have high hopes that this will be the year that newsrooms put serious thought into identifying the new models for this reporting.

Elizabeth Jensen is ombudsman and public editor of NPR.

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