The press needs to do better, and so do we

What would you think if 2% of the population drove the discussion on the most important issues facing the country? How would feel if this 2% was driving the country apart rather than uniting it? Would you feel part of a representative democracy?

Well, this is the situation we are trending towards, if we’re not already there.

As my one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Mace, pointed out in his most recent post, We’re not as divided as we think we are, 2% of the US population writes 97% of the political posts on Twitter. It’s these posts that are promoted by the press. These posts, which are usually very opinionated and highly controversial, are picked up by the press and presented as though these are the views of the majority of Americans.

Source: We’re not as divided as we think we are – Mobile Opportunity

It begs the question, why does the mainstream press behave this way?

I don’t know exactly, but my hypothesis is that it’s easy. Instead of doing the work to canvas and research the opinions and moods of the majority, it’s easier to republish and broadcast the messages coming from social media. In my opinion, it indicates that the mainstream press has either gotten lazy or has given into the pressures of quickly amassing views and clicks to generate revenue. I’d like to believe it’s the latter rather than the former, but no matter the case, the mainstream press has to do better. Given their role and influence over the general public, they have a responsibility to research and present the facts. They shouldn’t be a mouthpiece for the loudest voices on social media.

I believe the situation is best summed up in this research report by More in Common, The Hidden Tribes of America:

Why do the Wings [the extremes] dominate the conversation? A key reason is that polarization has become a business model. Media executives have realized that they can drive clicks, likes, and views, and make money for themselves and their shareholders, by providing people with the most strident opinions. This means that the most extreme voices―no matter how outlandish―often get the most airtime. In addition, people with the most extreme views are often the most certain of their positions. They are willing to argue with anyone and avoid moderating their opinions or conceding points to the other side. All this can make entertaining television and viral social media content. But it is distorting how we see each other, fracturing our society, and adding to distortions in our political system that give undue weight to the most extreme views.

Source: The Hidden Tribe of America

Now, while it’s easy to place the blame at the feet of the press, we as the public needs to shoulder some of the responsibility. We need to do better, too. We need to be more informed. We need to stop taking everything the mainstream press reports at face value. We should be doing our own research. Instead of being isolated and shut in, we should be engaging in our communities. We need to have conversations with real people who share our views as well as those who don’t. Through listening, discussion, and healthy debate, we would discover common ground we can agree on. We would find that we have more in common with each other than the media leads and wants us to believe.

It’s up to us to take a stand. One way I’ve done it is by shutting out the mainstream media, and social media. I don’t want to support or feed their efforts to divide us. Until they start spending the energy and effort to be a part of the solution, working to unite us rather than drive us apart, I’m using my power to turn them off.

I’m an optimist. Together we can change the current mood. I still believe that we can find light in the darkness and that we will emerge from the current environment stronger. We can do it by working together. Listening. Being kind. Practicing empathy. Making good choices. I’m not saying it will be easy. It’s going to take effort. It’s going to be work. But in the end, it will be worth it.