A more normal news year?

“If it is, I hope we use the space freed up in our heads to learn some lessons from the craziness we have been through.”

After six consecutive highly abnormal news years, 2022 might — absent a huge new surprise — be the most normal news year in some time. If it is, I hope we use the space freed up in our heads to learn some lessons from the craziness we have been through, and to use the time wisely, as we prepare ourselves for more craziness ahead.

Each of the years 2016 through 2020 was dominated in many ways by Donald Trump. Beyond Trump — and this would have been true even if a more capable person had been president at COVID’s outset — there has also been a pandemic that has dominated the news, now for 22 months and counting, like very few other stories ever have in peacetime. But at some point in 2022, even if the Omicron variant does its worst, COVID will likely shift from a pandemic to an endemic disease, at least in the U.S.

Yes, there will be elections in 2022, and lots of partisans will say that the fate of democracy hinges on them, but that’s not really true of midterm elections. If democracy is really threatened, and I do think that’s possible, the threat will come in 2024.

So a more normal news year may lie ahead than any since 2015. How might you define such a year? Maybe as one in which, when it’s over, there isn’t a consensus on the top stories, as shown in these late 2015 links from ABC, AP and CNN.

If we have such a year, I would suggest we devote some of it to learning from the rolling crises from which we are at least temporarily emerging.

Here are a few things we might learn:

  • What important stories are we missing, or just not telling in a sufficiently compelling way? Can we finally cover climate change in a way that conveys what should be done about it, and actually can be done, to the public at large? Can we report about inequality and race in America in a manner which is systematic, that is scaled and undertaken in proportion to these deep, systemic issues, rather than random and episodic, as if we need to periodically rediscover them?
  • Can we reflect on not just how the press stood up to Trumpian chaos and aspirations to autocracy, or might have done so even more effectively, but also on stories where we could have done better, from the shortcomings of our pandemic coverage to that of the Steele dossier and its aftermath?
  • Can we better adapt our political coverage, warped by years of constant emergencies and bizarreness, to a more normal presidency, and to more intelligent coverage of government as well as politics? (I acknowledge this was in part of my hope in this space last year, but it seems to bear repeating)
  • Can we allow ourselves to catch our collective breath just a bit, and to gain our footing in a new hybrid work environment, while continuing to build newsrooms that are more diverse, equitable and inclusive, and are committed to telling the stories of all Americans, those like and also unlike us, whoever we are?

It is frequently said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and there is a lot of truth in that. But the same can also be true of what comes after the crisis, and 2022 may finally, even if briefly, give us an opportunity to remember that as well, and to make something of it.

Richard Tofel is principal of Gallatin Advisory and former president of ProPublica.

After six consecutive highly abnormal news years, 2022 might — absent a huge new surprise — be the most normal news year in some time. If it is, I hope we use the space freed up in our heads to learn some lessons from the craziness we have been through, and to use the time wisely, as we prepare ourselves for more craziness ahead.

Each of the years 2016 through 2020 was dominated in many ways by Donald Trump. Beyond Trump — and this would have been true even if a more capable person had been president at COVID’s outset — there has also been a pandemic that has dominated the news, now for 22 months and counting, like very few other stories ever have in peacetime. But at some point in 2022, even if the Omicron variant does its worst, COVID will likely shift from a pandemic to an endemic disease, at least in the U.S.

Yes, there will be elections in 2022, and lots of partisans will say that the fate of democracy hinges on them, but that’s not really true of midterm elections. If democracy is really threatened, and I do think that’s possible, the threat will come in 2024.

So a more normal news year may lie ahead than any since 2015. How might you define such a year? Maybe as one in which, when it’s over, there isn’t a consensus on the top stories, as shown in these late 2015 links from ABC, AP and CNN.

If we have such a year, I would suggest we devote some of it to learning from the rolling crises from which we are at least temporarily emerging.

Here are a few things we might learn:

  • What important stories are we missing, or just not telling in a sufficiently compelling way? Can we finally cover climate change in a way that conveys what should be done about it, and actually can be done, to the public at large? Can we report about inequality and race in America in a manner which is systematic, that is scaled and undertaken in proportion to these deep, systemic issues, rather than random and episodic, as if we need to periodically rediscover them?
  • Can we reflect on not just how the press stood up to Trumpian chaos and aspirations to autocracy, or might have done so even more effectively, but also on stories where we could have done better, from the shortcomings of our pandemic coverage to that of the Steele dossier and its aftermath?
  • Can we better adapt our political coverage, warped by years of constant emergencies and bizarreness, to a more normal presidency, and to more intelligent coverage of government as well as politics? (I acknowledge this was in part of my hope in this space last year, but it seems to bear repeating)
  • Can we allow ourselves to catch our collective breath just a bit, and to gain our footing in a new hybrid work environment, while continuing to build newsrooms that are more diverse, equitable and inclusive, and are committed to telling the stories of all Americans, those like and also unlike us, whoever we are?

It is frequently said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and there is a lot of truth in that. But the same can also be true of what comes after the crisis, and 2022 may finally, even if briefly, give us an opportunity to remember that as well, and to make something of it.

Richard Tofel is principal of Gallatin Advisory and former president of ProPublica.

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