NBC Questions Voters but Tells Us Nothing
On February 17, NBC Nightly News was back in Kenosha, Wisconsin—for the second time since the inauguration—to find out what voters are thinking about President Trump’s first 30 days in office.
Kenosha County was evenly split in the 2016 presidential election, with less than 300 votes separating the two major party candidates.
The reporter spoke with a mix of voters; two who liked Trump, two who opposed Trump, and one who truly had mixed feelings.
“Is he the best talker? No!” one supporter said. “Like he said, he’s not a politician.”
But a young African-American man said he’s concerned.
“I’ve seen a lot more racism than I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.
One woman said she was confused by President Trump because he doesn’t fit any mold for a professional or politician, while another man said he felt despair.
In the end, the last supporter said, “Give him a chance.”
But is NBC sharing anything viewers haven’t already heard?
In the reporter’s effort to provide totally balanced viewpoints, do viewers get a sense of critical opinion shifts for and against Trump? We don’t learn from this report how or if voter opinions have changed.
Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute and author of Shining City: a Novel, says this story needs to delve deeper to be effective.
“There can be tremendous value to these stories—if the people in them have something valuable to say that you have not heard before,” Rosenstiel said. “It needs to get beneath the surface and it needs to bring real insight.”
However, reporting from “the field” can give viewers in other parts of the country a sense of how similar or different other communities are in their thinking. Without this kind of reporting, Wisconsin is just a “fly-over state” that East and West Coasters never hear about.
But Madhulika Sikka, a former executive editor at NPR and Mic, said that’s not the issue.
“The problem with this piece had nothing to do with the difficulty of reporting from the Midwest,” Sikka said. “Its problem was that it lacked any detail or context for why it was chosen apart from the desire to report from ‘across America.’”
Sikka added that it would have been helpful to know if the interviewees had actually voted and if so, how?
Without telling viewers if there’s been a change and what that change represents, the question remains: does such a story have any journalistic merit? Is there a way to report from the heartland of America more effectively, or are these “man on the street” stories doomed to fail for lack of substance?
“The real value of listening to voters and citizens is when they surprise you,” Rosenstiel said. “If you can spend real time with people, and get them to trust you, not just speak into your camera, it can be a superb way of breaking through and creating understanding.”