Media. The resounding fail of Big Data and 2.0 Journalism during electoral night (and the previous year and a half). Trump wasn't living in a reality show; we were.

The anti-Watergate of American journalism

Even though we in Italy know something about failed polls and surprising electoral exploits, what happened in the U.S. Tuesday night is unprecedented.

Journalism 2.0 celebrated its own funeral. The reporting of truth through big data, statistics gurus, real-time charts, meticulous dissections of constituencies and sabermetric evaluations on each tiny political issue has exploded like an inflated balloon.

Every medium — newspapers, websites and TV networks — failed on each forecast and on the overall narrative. They over-analyzed but never really understood the actual society.


No one predicted what really happened.

Actually, at least some dreaded it: Michigan’s son Micheal Moore, our own Luca Celada and Portelli and few others. To describe (and recognize) the event of a Trump victory you didn’t need algorithms but historical knowledge and American culture awareness. Intelligence, not editorial engineering.

And yet the presidential campaign lasted more than a year and a half. It has been covered by thousands of professionals. Trump wasn’t the one in the false reality show, it was the media. It was us.

Jim Ratenberg for The New York Times, “It was a failure to capture the boiling anger of a large portion of the American electorate that feels left behind by a selective recovery” … “disrespected by establishment Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media.”

You have the illusion of immediacy and truth when you hypnotically stare at the “horse race” gauge. It’s a novel and interactive journalism format. It’s so modern and “mobile.” And yet those gauges dashed from 83 percent for Clinton to 93 percent for Trump in just eight hours. A clamorous U-Turn. And a shameful one.

If media don’t report the truth, what do they report? “Tonight data is dead,” an astonished Republican Party strategist Mike Murphy admitted.

This sorrowful mistake can only be partially explained with the populist version of the “elite bubble” that also includes journalists. Such a media disaster also happened because of the basic choices of the information industry, who decided to decimate reporters, particularly local ones, and bet on the immediacy of tweets or the superficiality of polls to report the news.

When the media discussed Trump the character and not the problems he promised to address, they weren’t working for readers, but for someone else, thus becoming more artificial than the most unlikely of reality shows.

More to read on this topic:

The Data Said Clinton Would Win. Why You Shouldn’t Have Believed It (New York Times)
In brief: Data crunchers blame pollsters, pollsters blame lying electors, journalists blame the readers who take for granted forecasts based on very complex decisions.

In the end, the truth is in the words of Thomas. E. Mann (nomen omen?) an election expert at the Brookings Institution: “If we could go back to the world of reporting being about the candidates and the parties and the issues at stake instead of the incessant coverage of every little blip in the polls, we would all be better off.”

Can the Media Recover From This Election? (New York Times)
A forum to start up the discussion.

Here’s What Happened with the Latino Vote (New York Times)
They insist! Relentlessly. They try to explain the Hispanic vote by the means of exit polls, without even a single quote from a real flesh and blood “Hispanic” voter. The headline is in present tense, too. Everything like it was before. Everything as if it never happened (it’s in the same newspaper pondering exit polls reliability!).

The lesson of Trump’s victory is not that data is dead. The lesson is that data is flawed (Wired)
If the medicine doesn’t work, double the dose. Not so brilliant, in my opinion.

This is our anti-Watergate (CJR)
An analysis of this issue by Columbia Journalism Review. Simply put, journalism’s fundamental failure in this election, its original sin, is rooted in a failure of reporting.

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