20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
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2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

The day after November 4

“These notions of media theory are premised on an information-centric view of the power of communication. But how much of it is tenable at a time when it seems people increasingly make sense of the news with their hearts first and their minds second?”

It’s late in the evening of November 4, 2020. The networks have called it: Donald Trump has just won re-election and will remain in office for another four years.

That scenario might or might not happen. I am neither political scientist nor futurologist; I don’t have the expertise to make a credible prediction about this matter. But what I can predict with confidence is that if President Trump wins, November 4, 2020 will be a day of reckoning not only for the Democratic Party, but also for leading mainstream media.

Since Trump’s election, these news outlets have devoted vast resources to make news about the administration. The resulting coverage has been mostly negative. The economic outcomes for the leading media, however, has been quite positive — at least in some cases. The New York Times Co., for instance, has seen its stock price triple since November 8, 2016, from $11.10 to $33.07 today. That’s almost six times the performance of the S&P 500 during the same period.

But what about the media’s political, not economic, power? What might a re-election of Donald Trump say about the limits of journalistic organizations to influence public opinion in the contemporary polity?

Finally, what about media theory? What would this scenario say about the vitality of notions such as the power of the media to set the agenda, the existence of minimal effects, and the like, that have been at the foundation of communication scholarship for generations?

These notions of media theory are premised on an information-centric view of the power of communication. But how much of it is tenable at a time when it seems people increasingly make sense of the news with their hearts first and their minds second?

So will November 4, 2020, be a day of reckoning for the Democratic Party, mainstream journalism, and media theory? Perhaps we shouldn’t wait that long to start answering the question. Perhaps the very fact that this scenario is at present plausible should give us a time to pause, reflect, and start coming up with answers now. Better early than late.

Pablo J. Boczkowski is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

It’s late in the evening of November 4, 2020. The networks have called it: Donald Trump has just won re-election and will remain in office for another four years.

That scenario might or might not happen. I am neither political scientist nor futurologist; I don’t have the expertise to make a credible prediction about this matter. But what I can predict with confidence is that if President Trump wins, November 4, 2020 will be a day of reckoning not only for the Democratic Party, but also for leading mainstream media.

Since Trump’s election, these news outlets have devoted vast resources to make news about the administration. The resulting coverage has been mostly negative. The economic outcomes for the leading media, however, has been quite positive — at least in some cases. The New York Times Co., for instance, has seen its stock price triple since November 8, 2016, from $11.10 to $33.07 today. That’s almost six times the performance of the S&P 500 during the same period.

But what about the media’s political, not economic, power? What might a re-election of Donald Trump say about the limits of journalistic organizations to influence public opinion in the contemporary polity?

Finally, what about media theory? What would this scenario say about the vitality of notions such as the power of the media to set the agenda, the existence of minimal effects, and the like, that have been at the foundation of communication scholarship for generations?

These notions of media theory are premised on an information-centric view of the power of communication. But how much of it is tenable at a time when it seems people increasingly make sense of the news with their hearts first and their minds second?

So will November 4, 2020, be a day of reckoning for the Democratic Party, mainstream journalism, and media theory? Perhaps we shouldn’t wait that long to start answering the question. Perhaps the very fact that this scenario is at present plausible should give us a time to pause, reflect, and start coming up with answers now. Better early than late.

Pablo J. Boczkowski is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

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