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Understanding Mainstream Media

How much of a role do you think the mainstream media plays when political elections come around? This question has come up many times in 2022 as American, Australian, and British voters prepared to elect their primary political representatives in their respective legislatures. The answer used to be the same in the United States, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the United Kingdom, but things have changed since the surprise election of former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

It was the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. that transformed the opinion of many Americans about mainstream media. Prior to that wild and contentious political campaign, most Americans were not familiar with the term “mainstream media” as such. They were more likely to name established broadcast networks and major publications as their sources of news instead of using mainstream media as a derisive term.

As a political candidate in 2016, Trump often told his followers that it was a good idea to seek beyond the mainstream media for different coverage or a fuller understanding of specific topics.

Here is an example of a story reported and analyzed by a news source that is not part of the mainstream media.

Trump’s advice about stepping outside our own boundaries to get crucial information on important matters such as presidential elections is pretty good, but the second part of his advice was deeply flawed and self-serving. The non-mainstream media news organizations that Trump recommended to his followers have been heavily criticized for their political bias and troubling interpretation of journalistic standards.

“Lamestream media” is the mocking and derogatory term made popular by the Trump campaign when referring to news sources such as The New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post, and others that carried stories and opinion pieces that were less than favorable to the candidate who ultimately won the election against all odds. Trump himself, however, was quite fond of Fox News, a cable news channel that many Americans, including Trump supporters, consider to be part of the mainstream media.

According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans are pretty much in agreement with the news organizations that represent mainstream media in the U.S. All the networks and publications we have mentioned up to this point are considered to be mainstream.

The ones recommended by Trump, which include One America News Network and Newsmax, are not considered by most Americans to be mainstream, and this is the opinion from all sides of the political spectrum. The key here is that neither Newsmax or OANN are established; in fact, the latter outlet has been having a hard time trying to maintain its spot on cable television, thus making it fringe rather than mainstream.

In the end, audiences determine which news organizations can be described as being mainstream media outlets. It doesn’t really matter if the organizations are biased or have an agenda that ventures outside of journalism; what really matters is how people perceive them insofar as being established. When you look at New Media outlets such as Vox.com and 538, which respectively use educational and statistical angles to report the news, you would not consider them to be mainstream media. Only time will tell if Americans eventually consider these digital news sources to be established and mainstream.

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