elected + trumped

I spent the last three months covering the presidential election for my newspaper. I got to do some really amazing things, like embedding with the White House Press Pool to cover President Obama's visit here:

Taken under the wing of Air Force One on the tarmac

Taken under the wing of Air Force One on the tarmac

I covered a Hillary Clinton rally, then got whisked backstage to a small media availability with her:

I interviewed Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. Cory Booker at different campaign stops in Greensboro, and I joined former President Bill Clinton's motorcade twice as he stumped here for his wife. (The best was the Sunday service at a tiny Pentecostal church that had no idea he was coming.)

You'll notice that I don't have a lot of coverage of Donald Trump to balance this out, which is something my editor and I struggled with during the campaign season. Journalism is inherently about balance; what you do for one side, you do for the other. But Trump did not run a traditional campaign, which meant there were no surrogates - people campaigning in his place - coming through town. He did not have a local spokesman, where the Clinton campaign had a team of four media people assigned to my area. Ultimately, what we decided was that our coverage might appear biased - but if the Trump campaign wasn't responding or holding its own events, it wasn't anything we could control. People like Bill Clinton and Cory Booker and Jesse Jackson are newsworthy, and so we covered them.

I have a clear conscience about that. I feel less great about my attempts - or lack thereof, I guess - to seek out Trump voters and understand their thoughts and concerns. The county I cover voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, but nearly a third of precincts here also voted for Trump. Of those, not a single one voted for him by a margin of less than 51 percent. In most cases, the margin of victory was much higher.

These people exist, and I failed to find them. Going into Election Day, I believed - as did most people - that Clinton would win, and that she would win easily. We know now that's a fallacy; that the polls failed miserably, and that huge swaths of largely white voters - most of whom had been disengaged with the political process for years - voted Trump into office.

These people live in the county that I cover and I did not know about it. And I don't think that's OK.

In the weeks since the election, there have been dozens of mea culpa pieces penned by journalists. I realize I'm adding to the pile, which is not really my intention, but the election, and my coverage of it, made clear to me certain shortfalls in my own reporting. I cover an entire county but rarely leave the city of Greensboro; I focus too much on policies and proposals and not enough on the people affected by them. These things aren't unique to me - as small newspapers die out, media coverage is concentrated in urban areas, which inherently leaves communities behind; finding a "real person" for a story can be the hardest part of the job - but they do affect me.

I don't have the reach of a reporter at the New York Times or the Washington Post, but I do have the same responsibility. I've come out of the election with a renewed desire to do my job well, to talk to more people, and to learn more about the place I cover - and live. 

So this is an apology of sorts, and a promise as we move forward: I'm sorry I haven't done an adequate job of finding and trying to understand all of the people who live in the county that I cover, and I promise to do better. 

If you're interested in reading/understanding more about the election, why it went the way that it did, and why the vast majority of us didn't see it coming, here are some pieces I found particularly helpful:

"How Half Of The Country Lost Its Fucking Mind" - the headline implies this will be a scathing review of Trump voters, but it's actually an exceedingly eloquent and easy-to-understand explanation of small-town rural voters, their fears, and why they voted the way they did.

"Trump's Data Team Saw a Different America - And They Were Right" - why the mainstream polls were so wrong, and how Trump's team - unknown to all of us - won the election.

"Revenge of the Forgotten Class" - excerpts from interviews with rust-belt voters, many of whom voted for Obama previously.

"Polls miss huge swath of disenfranchised, first-time voters" - my post-election story about the polls in North Carolina and why they were so very, very wrong.

And finally:

"A Letter to America from Leslie Knope, regarding Donald Trump" - for some much-needed levity.