A simple but powerful question drove me to join HuffPost three months ago after nearly 15 years at The New York Times: What would it mean to create a news organization that saw itself not as writing about people who feel left out of the political, economic and social power arrangements, but for them?
This question is particularly pressing at a moment when trust in news is at a historic low. A survey by the Pew Research Center in the United States last year found that just 18 percent of respondents have “a lot” of trust in national media organizations. Since 1990, more than a quarter of a million newspaper jobs have vanished, most of them at local publications. It’s hard to see journalists as the enemy of the American people, as Donald Trump put it, if you see them covering your high school football games and town council meetings. But with fewer local reporters on the ground, it’s no surprise that our audience trusts us less.
Like so many other industries, journalism has become highly concentrated in affluent urban centers. Yet I don’t buy the caricature that the national press is a bunch of clubby elites ― many of us grew up in far-flung places with varied backgrounds. My father is a disabled vet, and my mother is an African immigrant. I went to college in part thanks to a Pell Grant, a government program available to only the poorest students. My grandparents on my father’s side were Goldwater Republicans.
And yet, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, a lot of journalists are asking ourselves whether our audience should trust us. How were we so wrong? Are we out of touch? The Pew data tell us our audience had lost faith in us long before the first vote for Trump was cast.
“I think we can do better for people who feel that too much political and economic power has accrued to a very small elite.”
This is a global phenomenon. Journalists didn’t see Brexit coming. The rise of ethno-nationalism in Europe and Asia crept up on us. Were we paying enough attention to the long-gathering backlash against globalization, or to the looming fears that technology will eat up millions of jobs?
I think we can do better for people who feel that too much political and economic power has accrued to a very small elite. People who feel they are on the outside looking in at the prosperity created by globalization and technological transformation. That the game is rigged; that the deck is stacked against them; who feel that the house always wins. That definition includes many, many people who voted for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I suspect it also includes the majority of people who voted for Trump. It certainly encompasses voters on both sides of Brexit and the French presidential vote that took place over the weekend.
For me, the biggest divide in America, indeed across the globe, is between those who have power and those who don’t, and that doesn’t easily line up with our red and blue, left or right politics. The media has come up short in telling the story of one side of that divide ― of the people experiencing anger, voicelessness and powerlessness.
Facts and truth are basic elements of the news. But they alone are not enough. Emotion, humor and empathy are also essential ingredients of journalism that helps you know what’s real. It’s no wonder so many people these days get their news from comedy shows.
This is what drew me to HuffPost. As one of the very first digital media organizations, HuffPost pioneered a journalism of listening through its vast contributor network. It covered the world with verve and wit, connecting in deep and personal ways with its vast audience.
As we launch a brand-new name and look for HuffPost, I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions. How can we become better listeners? How can we serve you, our audience, better? We’re doubling down on our bold, splashy style, and serving up the news with a sense of humor, outrage and empathy. We’re also taking the suggestion of our audience across the globe and formally adopting the shorter name they’ve called us for years: HuffPost.
In the months ahead you’ll see much more original journalism from across the country. We’re expanding Highline, our ambitious digital magazine, to bring the rigor and depth of their work to you with more frequency and in new formats. We’ll create bold and compelling video that moves you. Expect us to hit the road and listen, from the ground up, to people who may not know HuffPost, or think it doesn’t tell stories for people like them.
We’ll be asking more voices from different perspectives to join our network of contributors and describe their experiences in their own words. And our global editions will work together much more closely to cover the big, sweeping stories of our time: the rise of nationalism, terrorism and climate change; the challenge of the global migration crisis; the struggle for human rights across the world.
We’re also looking beyond the news, investing in journalism about how people live their lives. We’re renewing our focus on the things that bring us joy and relief, like culture, celebrity and entertainment. And we’re building robust communities around the most vital topics that obsess our audience ― including identity, parenting and how to live a healthy, fulfilled life, no matter where you live or how much money you have.
At HuffPost we reach nearly 200 million people around the globe each month. We aim to make this extraordinary platform the news source of choice for people everywhere. We have big and ambitious plans to reset the conversation about news and make it, once again, an essential and trusted part of any citizen’s life.
What stories aren’t being told by the mainstream media ― including HuffPost? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.