Political polarization has become a significant issue across the country. That division has moved from the political realm into our neighborhoods, schools, civic organizations, and workplaces. One reason is because of media coverage -- but not in the way you might think.
There are two pieces to this puzzle:
Journalism has a bias towards conflict, and a bias towards fairness. So in any political story the conflicts are often emphasized and reporters make sure to amplify the positions on both sides. Elevating the conflict, and elevating the idea of binary positions unintentionally reinforces the idea that there’s “this way” and “that way” and there are only two sides to a story. (When was the last time a public policy debate only had two sides?)
The second issue has to do with the shrinking number and size of local news outlets. When local news is diminished or disappears, those communities are left with access to only larger regional or national news outlets. Larger outlets cover news differently, and with a much broader perspective. In addition, the void is often filled with social media or crowdsourced groups. These "news" sources can be easily manipulated and don't employ journalistic firewalls against overly partisan or mis- or dis-information.
Majority in the Middle can help solve these challenges by surfacing the stories of hidden bipartisanship. As we regularly connect with legislators and others at the capitol, we are in a good position to hear about bipartisan efforts. We then share those story ideas and connect legislators with smaller media outlets who don’t have their own capitol reporter.
(We are not journalists and don’t pretend to be. The reporters who have credentials and subscribe to a code of ethics should be the ones doing the actual journalism. In this way our role is more about research than reporting. But we do have two things that not all small media outlets have: boots on the ground in the capitol on a regular basis, and existing relationships on both sides of the aisle.)
By having more stories about bipartisan efforts, we will:
Support and empower local media outlets to create stories about politics and public policy that are more relevant to their local communities.
Illustrate that the work that goes on at the capitol isn’t all divisive along partisan lines.
Instead of only hearing from regional and statewide media outlets about what political caucus leadership is doing and saying (especially damaging since presiding over conflict is often the role of leadership) constituents in smaller media markets will be more connected to what THEIR representative is doing.
Elevate and support the efforts of legislators who are working across the aisle – something that most constituents want politicians to do.
Bring a more positive tone to political stories.
Become a model for other similar projects across the country.
By elevating real journalism, we will hopefully reduce the instances of blatantly partisan communications and mis- and dis-information.
If your media organization would like to be a partner in this work, contact executive director Shannon Watson.