Originally published for The Huffington Post
Recently, many Democratic and Socialist friends of mine have commented on how the media provides Donald Trump unfair amounts of coverage while Bernie Sanders’ mentions, even in the last leg of his race, didn’t come close. I couldn’t help but wonder if Donald Trump won the election without much coverage of his rhetorics and went on to act on the signature promises of his campaign, like the Muslim ban or the border wall, the same friends would go, “Oh, the media never told us.”
That paradox is not limited to my friends. Most in America don’t understand how the mainstream media works and so I often hear this criticism echoed, that the media doesn’t prioritize issues of profound importance. To be clear, I’m not defending every media platform or its agenda. This is mainly to clarify their process. If you see a story that you believe should be reported on the media, the first question to ask is: Is it “news of the day”? Because after decades of trial and error and after spending millions of dollars on surveys and focus groups the news media in the U.S. found out that the viewer turns on the TV to know what is happening right now, today, i.e. “news of the day.”
That means they seek information which was previously unknown. Like a new discovery in medical sciences, a new survey on a contemporary issue, a new event which could be a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, or, in the case of the ongoing campaigns, a new, albeit, wild statement by a presidential front runner, now a nominee.
Trump understands this structure very well and that is why he keeps creating news by saying outrageous things which the media feels compelled to cover. Bernie, however, did not and consequently, only got a mention every time new poll numbers showed he was catching up to Hillary. It was too little too late by the time Bernie said that the convention could get “messy.”
Mainstream media is not alone. Anyone who knows the radio host Alex Jones would know that he is the epitome of the anti-mainstream media but he too primarily reports on “news of the day”. It is important to understand the workings of an industry before pinpointing its flaws.
News programs that attract the highest number of viewers like NBC Nightly News, ABC’s World News and CBS Evening News are factual reporting, no opinions, on news of the day. You cannot expect them to tell you the history behind a story because it’s not what most viewers are looking for and because they don’t have the time. The viewer wants to know the story in a short, precise clip and that is why those three evening news broadcasts are designed in a way that gives each story no more than two minutes in a 30-minute daily broadcast.
Opinionated news media, however, like talk shows on MSNBC, Fox News and CNN, can talk about the history of a story because they have far more time but they too would have to focus their discussion on “news of the day”.
My suggestion, if you have an interesting news idea, is to wait for it to become relevant before going up to the media. And know what your best platform is. Mainstream media will only report on stories of national significance. If you have a story that is mostly local then it’s best to reach out to your local news affiliate. This is precisely why they exist.
Still, you might ask, “Well, what about extremely important issues that should be told regardless of them being ‘news of the day’ or not?”
We live under a libertarian model where we are free to say what we want to say and when. You can find a trade publication or a specialized website that caters to your interests 24/7 or if you are really inclined, go get a slot on public television free of charge or cultivate a social media following. If you generate enough buzz the media will have no choice but to take notice. That will be the news of the day.