We’ve been Trumped

Much has been written about the US Presidential election and the vote that delivered the Presidency to Donald Trump. Much air time has been devoted to what a Trump administration will mean to Australia.

While it’s easy to mock the election result (and who hasn’t laughed/cringed at the thought of a reality TV President), there’s a very salient lesson in it for us who work in the media. Don’t take voters/listeners for granted.

Trump garnered more support as he openly questioned the legitimacy and impartiality of the main-stream media. According to him, it wasn’t just Hillary who was crooked. Journalists and the various left-leaning media outlets were ‘corrupt’ and hell-bent on keeping him out of the White House.

It’s something we’ve see evolving over the last few years with regards to our own ABC. The Right sees the national broadcaster as unacceptably ‘socialist’, while the Left accuses it of kow-towing to its political masters. Pretty much a no-win situation for Aunty.

Trump continued those attacks on Twitter in a carefully planned campaign. Don’t be fooled into thinking his Twitter tirades were anything but an orchestrated call to action to his supporters. He successfully manipulated and mobilised the masses by suggesting the election process was rigged against him and it resonated with his alienated supporters. We laughed at him, but who’s laughing now?

So, what does it mean for the Aussie journalist working in a more conservative political climate. What lessons can be learned from the Trump victory?

1. One for the politicians: don’t take voters for granted. As we’ve seen with our successive change of governments or tight election results, voters aren’t as rusted on as they used to be and are prepared to make the switch. A bit like listeners.

2. We can never assume that we ‘know better’ than the listener. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, people don’t like being told how to vote or how they should think. Don’t hector or put them down.

Neutrality is vital. Oh, and as for the celebrity endorsement, the parade of stars backing Clinton proved to be a turn off for voters.

3. Elitism. Is it the new ‘insult’? The US election result clearly demonstrated a perception of elitism is a ‘death knell’ for any political aspirant and also for the media tasked with covering the election process. How many times did Trump and his cohort throw the ‘elite media’ tag around?

And clearly it worked. He managed to energise a group of voters, who’d been pushed to one side and ignored by the political and media ‘elite’. They wanted to be heard.

It’s something we need to be mindful of here as well, Some of the micro-parties and fringe elements are already tapping into that mind set. We might not like to hear what they’re saying, but we need to at least listen and address it.

4. Criticism. While we weren’t ‘obliged’ to present both sides of the US argument, it’s a very different situation in Australia especially during an election campaign. Obviously.

What shocked many in the US was that the Trump voter was seemingly prepared to accept or overlook his short comings. And there were many of them. His support actually increased when he was labelled sexist, racist and a hater. Why? Because those labels generated sympathy. Perversely, they thought he was being unfairly picked on.

5. Not everything on FaceBook is real. Mark Zuckerberg claims there’s very little fake news on the social media platform. The US election result may prove otherwise. Many of us (me included) have probably re-posted something that wasn’t quite ‘fair and balanced’. True from a certain point of view.

FaceBook is effectively a reality bubble that you and like-minded friends inhabit, but that doesn’t mean it is reflective of what’s actually going on. It’s a great tool to source information and stories, but don’t take it at face(book) value.

6. Maybe the polls aren’t everything. Our politicians are quick to play down any negative poll with the standard response “there’s only one poll that matters and that’s polling day”. The polls feed the leadership speculation and talk of an early election. But maybe our pollies are onto something and perhaps we need to take a step back from the edge.

The vast majority of polls called the election for Hillary Clinton. In the days leading up to the November 8 election, we used those polls to conclude Trump could never, ever possibly win this thing. But he did

Ultimately, the US election result has been a big shake-up call for all of us in the media. While our American friends grapple with the next four years with Trump at the helm, journalists across old and new media may need to re-evaluate the way we operate.

Perhaps that’s a good thing.

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