Farai Chidaya

358. How to cover diversity, political division in a divided America

On Election Night 2016, after the polls had closed and the results were in, Farai Chideya emerged from the ABC Digital newsroom near Times Square to find a much different scene than when she arrived hours earlier.

Instead of a jubilant crowd ready for “Election Mardi Gras” complete with costumes ready to celebrate an anticipated Hillary Clinton victory, she found the busy area nearly empty. There was one person running around with a Trump flag, chanting his name.

“Of course, I take out my phone and interview him,” says Chideya, a journalism program officer at the Ford Foundation and a fellow at the MIT Media Lab. “He’s Justin Rodriguez, 27 at the time, an entrepreneur from Queens, the same part of New York that Trump is from.”

Rodriguez told her that he was in Manhattan with his Muslim girlfriend and that he supported Trump because he felt that candidate would be better for entrepreneurs like himself. But Rodriquez also said he was against unrestricted immigration.

“He thought America was privileging immigrants over people already here,” she says. “We have to remember that the majority of Latinos (in the United States) are US born. Things like that are what field reporting can do for you.”

With a career that’s included its fair share of field reporting, Chideya cautions against making broad generalizations when trying to cover elections or any trend story.  Not only does that make for missing stories that matter – like a lack of attention paid to former CBS executive Les Moonves’ stated belief in an earnings call that Trump was “great for CBS” but bad for the country – it oversimplifies and paints with too generic a conclusion about people.

“I think it’s great to explore the conflict but what are you doing to frame it,” she says. “Do you have enough knowledge of history, political science, have you done any field reporting (on a given subject)? Are you just saying this is what the people of the Midwest think? If you haven’t spent time there, you shouldn’t generalize.”

Farai Chideya, a fellow at the MIT Media Lab and journalism program officer at the Ford Foundation, discusses with producer Michael O’Connell the challenges journalists face in covering diversity and political division in a divided America.

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