Over the past few weeks, I have been fortunate to work with the Election Coverage and Democracy Network, a group of more than 60 international experts who have developed a set of practical, evidence-based recommendations for how journalists should cover the next US Presidential election in a way that strengthens rather than weaken the democratic process.
I have written a short article for The Conversation UK where I outline the reasons why we need news coverage to be responsible and act in the public interest, and in the interest of democracy, amidst what might be difficult circumstances if the electoral process is threatened before the vote, if the results are contested or one candidate fails to concede even if results are clear, and if civil unrest ensues after the vote.
As well as summarizing the key recommendations we make (download a copy here), I make two arguments.
First, that this is not only a job for US journalists, but for journalists all around the world, as international media — and British ones in particular — have sizable audiences overseas.
British media are very popular and influential in the US and they can play an important role in shaping how the American public will interpret the election and its aftermath. The BBC could well play a big role. Research has shown that 58% of Americans say they trust the broadcaster and 12% get at least some of their news from it each week. UK newspapers also have the potential to be influential players: in March 2020 the Guardian US recorded more than 114 million unique visits while the Daily Mail online attracts an estimated 73 million monthly unique visits in the US. Meanwhile, most readers of The Economist are in North America. And the influence won’t stop there – given their international prestige and recognition, British media are likely to shape news coverage of the US election all around the world.
Second, that readers can play an important role, by carefully choosing the kind of coverage we click on, read, and share online.
Readers and viewers have important roles to play as well. More than three-quarters of the UK population get their news online and nearly 40% on social media. The news that people choose to read on websites and news apps shapes the rankings that journalists and news executives use as indicators of what the public wants. The news they choose to share on social media influences the content that others discover on these platforms.