Journalists take one step forward, two steps back in solving industry’s class problem

Though journalists are beginning to acknowledge the industry’s ingrained elitism, journalists and organizations still have a tendency to inadvertently reveal how out of touch they can be with Middle America.

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias earned Twitter’s wrath recently with a tone-deaf tweet asking if “rural broadband” — Middle Americans having access to Internet services — is “really important to people.”

Among those taking Yglesias to task for revealing his ignorance of a serious issue millions of Americans face were his fellow journalists.

To be fair, Yglesias, who facetiously describes himself in his Twitter bio as a purveyor of “bad takes,” did admit to his error in judgment and appeared to learn something from the Twitter vitriol he experienced.

The Washington Post displayed some unintentional elitism on July 8 with its story about a provocative conservative radio host in Belleville, Ill., the hometown of the James T. Hodgkinson, the man who shot four people at a congressional baseball practice a few weeks ago.

“Americans have conflicted feelings about the aggressive political rhetoric consuming Washington politics,” the Post’s Peter Holley wrote. “But if America didn’t have an appetite for that sort of bare-knuckled political warfare, it’s hard to imagine someone like [Bob] Romanik would still be broadcasting.”

The story drew the ire of many social media users who resented the Post implying Romanik was representative of Middle American values while downplaying the fact Hodgkinson was politically progressive and a vocal supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

One person who publicly condemned the Post’s reporting was Salena Zito, a freelance journalist who made her name during the 2016 election cycle by being one of the few journalists presently and accurately reporting the desires of Middle America.

She also had a few thoughts on a July 9 report from CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, who posited that “the solution to poor journalism is more journalism.”

To their credit, some journalists in the industry are stepping up and voicing their discomfort with what they see as an industry-wide class problem.

Stelter, for example, was one of the few prominent voices in media criticism who drew a distinction between the average Americans who are skeptical of the press and those actively calling for the death of mainstream journalism.

“[N]ewsrooms and media companies need to take media literacy seriously,” he said in the “Reliable Sources” video. “Constructive criticism, holding us accountable when we screw up: We need that.

“But at the same time, newsroom bosses and media company owners need to mount a defense of the work journalists do day in, day out. Because right now, these anti-journalism voices are insidious. They’re wrong, but they’re getting louder.”

Heather Bryant, a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford, wrote about the reaction she received when she told a fellow journalist at a conference that her husband was a driver and mechanic.

“That person was genuinely surprised that the spouse of a journalist had such a blue-collar job,” she wrote. “The reaction makes me wonder how badly our industry really lacks for people with more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Our journalism would be better if we were a better representation of the backgrounds and experiences our audiences have.”

Federalist senior contributor Bethany Mandel authored a tweetstorm with a stronger sentiment, blasting the mainstream media for reporting that implies journalists think “half of Americans [are] stupid and racist.”

HuffPost civil rights reporter Julia Craven’s tweetstorm focused on how she felt like an outsider in an industry full of “a lot of middle class white people who are sympathetic but can’t always empathize.”

She also took a direct shot at Yglesias’ rural broadband tweet.

It is heartening to see journalists publicly calling for reporters to get out of their echo chambers and try to understand how those outside their bubbles live.

But it is also sad that after almost six months of a Donald Trump presidency and countless “How Did the Media Miss Trump?” think pieces, the press still has not entirely come to the terms with the disparity between their life experiences and those of the people they cover.

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