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Zurawik: Media going beyond nanosecond news-cycle disease with follow-up looks at midterm vote

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum attends a church service in Forth Lauderdale Sunday to advocate for a vote recount. A statewide midterm election recount is underway to decide if Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis will win the election.
Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum attends a church service in Forth Lauderdale Sunday to advocate for a vote recount. A statewide midterm election recount is underway to decide if Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis will win the election. (Joe Skipper / Getty Images)

One of the big problems with the media in recent years is the way we always seem to be chasing the latest tweet.

There are a lot of reasons for that, ranging from the way technology and lifestyle changes have rocked our sense of mission, to opportunists like President Donald Trump exploiting that loss of direction with tweets intended to excite, agitate and generally get people talking angrily on social media.

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When a tweet is news or contains news, we have to chase it. No problem there. That’s a big part of what we do and have always done: chase news.

But when we do that to the exclusion of enough analysis and reflection to help viewers and readers make sense of and find meaning in the news, we are failing the audience and democracy. More and more downsized news organizations are failing in just that way.

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We had a snapshot of this process last week with the midterm elections. For weeks and months, we talked and wrote about how this was one of the biggest midterms of our lifetimes. And then, we barely spent 24 hours digesting and analyzing it after Trump fired Attorney Jeff Sessions Wednesday and held a wild press session in which he insulted and verbally attacked Jim Acosta, of CNN; April Ryan, of American Urban Radio Networks, and Yamiche Alcindor, of PBS, among others.

Both actions by Trump were big news, but in chasing them, many of us left the midterms in the dust — me included. And it is now looking like some of our analyses last week underestimated the extent of Democratic gains in the midterms.

With recounts still ongoing in Florida and elsewhere, we are now forced to some extent to offer further analysis of Tuesday’s vote. But let’s stop, take a breath and try to also learn from the moment. Let’s think about what happens to our news platforms and democracy if all we do is chase social media and not help our audiences make sense of what we publish on them.

Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, and I discussed the effects of what I called nanosecond news-cycle behavior with host Brian Stelter on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday. You can see that here.

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CNN is also doing something about it by going back and offering a three-hour deep dive on the midterms Tuesday night titled “Election Night in America Continued.” I think that’s a great idea.

I also think it is great that The Sun offered just that kind of deeper dive analysis of the midterms Sunday morning at the top of Page One in a piece by Luke Broadwater analyzing the significant gains made in Maryland by Democrats despite Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s easy win over Ben Jealous. It highlighted key victories at the county executive level. The Sun’s opinion pages have also been filled with after-the-vote analyses.

Tuesday’s election results mean that in 2019 Democrats will hold the top job in seven of Maryland’s eight largest jurisdictions. Meanwhile, Republicans — still riding high from Hogan’s historic win over Democrat Ben Jealous — looked around the state to see their bench had been decimated.

Since I was on Sunday’s show, I might be a little prejudiced, but I thought there were several segments worth thinking about. They included: famed First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams saying he believes CNN has a “really strong” legal case against the White House for revoking Acosta’s credentials last week, Baltimore’s Ryan saying she believes Trump’s insulting behavior toward black women is “racial,” and another discussion with me and Sesno talking about the role journalists themselves can play in creating a less angry and dangerous level of public discourse about them.

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