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Trump's win shows how little electorate cares about media endorsements

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen on television screens at the media room during the first presidential debate with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, September 26, 2016.
Carlos Barria | Reuters
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen on television screens at the media room during the first presidential debate with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, September 26, 2016.

At the end of the day, the American public didn't care much about the mainstream media's research and opinions on the 2016 presidential election.

Worries over the economy, potential terrorist attacks and immigration proved more important than all the fact-checking by newspapers and TV networks. President-elect Donald Trump's statements that he didn't run a campaign but a "movement" rang true.

The election showed what Trump supporters had been saying all along: The media was no longer in touch with Americans, no longer addressed their worries and didn't hold corrupt executives, companies or government institutions accountable.

The reliance on big data journalism and advanced polling, powered by technology many newsrooms are using to supplement smaller human staffs, ended up wildly inaccurate. The majority of publications predicted a Hillary Clinton victory, with Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight's "conservative" modeling still giving her a 71.4 percent chance of winning on Election Day. In a post after Election Day, Silver admitted he behaved like a pundit, based his estimates on "subjective odds," and let his own internal feelings sway evidence that may have proved contrary.

On top of all that, fewer local and community newspapers and websites mean larger city and national papers become the barometer of opinion — and those are often out of touch with how great swathes of Americans are really feeling, some experts said. "We're not as in touch with the country as when we had strong larger regional papers," said Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

To be sure, although Trump was the projected winner of the Electoral College vote, Clinton did receive 59.6 million votes to Trump's 59.4 million, according to NBC News' count as of the time of publication of this story.

Social media proved to be a more accurate indicator. Trump dominated online chatter. Despite the majority of the media saying he lost the three presidential debates, he was the most talked-about candidate on Twitter and Facebook. And, while some may argue that the sentiment about Trump was negative, a large part of the country online supported his views.

The once-coveted newspaper endorsement was revealed to have almost no value. Out of the top 100 newspapers in the country, 57 endorsed Clinton, according to The Hill.

The Arizona Republic had never endorsed a Democrat in its 126-year history — this year it endorsed Clinton. USA Today, whose editorial board had never backed a presidential candidate in 34 years, said Trump was unfit to be commander-in-chief, although it stopped short of endorsing anyone. The San Diego Union-Tribune, another conservative paper, endorsed its first Democratic presidential candidate in its 148-year history. Swing state papers including The Columbus Dispatch and Tampa Bay Times broke tradition to throw their support behind Clinton.

Trump, on the other hand, only got the support of only two out of the top 100 newspapers — the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Florida Times-Union. (Not all papers pick a candidate to support during an election.) Even including the additional six smaller papers that endorsed the Republican candidate, his mainstream media support paled in comparison to Clinton's. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who at this time has received less than 5 percent of popular vote, had more newspapers endorsements than Trump.

The newspaper industry's endorsement power had been waning for a while. A 2007 Pew Research Center report showed only 14 percent of people said a newspaper's stance would positively influence their view on a candidate.

What influence the media had over the election didn't focus on the important issues. While this election had more coverage than any previous race, the bigger problem was that the media didn't cover Trump journalistically, said Montclair State's Brown, who was senior vice president of CourtTV when it launched and was the founding editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com.

Large East Coast publications covered Trump's background and his faulty business records and failed deals, but the rest of the country's media — which the majority of voters pay attention —skimped on those stories, Brown argued.

Through July, FiveThirtyEight reported Trump got $4.3 billion in free media coverage over the last 12 months, based on analytics firm mediaQuant's figures. According to its numbers, it was about twice as much as Clinton had gotten at that point. It also allowed him to spend less on political advertising, while giving him a larger soapbox to express his views to his supporters.

Across the board, the media focused on salacious details instead the real problems facing America, some critics said. The main broadcast networks which most people get their news from didn't focus programming into digging into the candidates past and their stances on issues, Brown said.

"The quality of the journalism by in large, to be kind, was limited and, to be less kind, horrific," Brown said.

Correction: This story was revised to correct the spelling of Merrill Brown's first name.