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Trump shock: Panel discusses media's role in 2016 election

Retired WCCO-TV assistant news director Dave Nimmer holds up a newspaper page while defending the importance of traditional, vetted journalism during a panel discussion “Journalism & the 2016 Presidential Election: What Just Happened?” Thursday night at UW-River Falls. He was joined by Minneapolis Star Tribune state government and politics editor Baird Helgeson. (photo by Michael Brun)

RIVER FALLS — Two veteran Twin Cities journalists spoke at UW-River Falls Thursday to address the question many have been asking in the wake of Donald Trump's Election Day victory: What just happened?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune conducted four polls this year in the leadup to the election — twice as many as it usually conducts — to gauge opinion in the state, politics editor Baird Helgeson told a full crowd in the university's North Hall Auditorium. "And our polling ended up being pretty close to what came down in the final election."

Baird pointed to the "echo chamber" effect of social media, where exposure to news can be tailored to fit users' ideology, as a factor in why the election result was surprising to some people.

He was accompanied by retired journalist and University of St. Thomas professor Dave Nimmer, who stressed the importance of vetted information from professional reporters.

"I'm not going to take the news I'm getting on Twitter or Facebook and make my decisions on what happened in this year's election," Nimmer said. Pointing to a copy of the Star Tribune, he added, "I have to read this newspaper, and if I'm not doing that, Jack, then I'm missing some really valuable information."

Nimmer also talked about the divisiveness of the 2016 election, including hostile comments directed at news organizations.

"There's a danger to the republic in demonizing the media," Nimmer said to audience members, many of them journalism students. He called on future reporters to seek out the truth by asking questions and examining records.

"I don't want some guy sitting in the basement in his undershirt giving me what he thought might be going on," he said.

The best coverage in this and previous election cycles was when news organizations told stories people did not want told, Baird added. Regardless of the size of a news organization, he said the best thing reporters can do "is to really take the time to tell stories and find stories nobody else is telling."

The discussion was part of the Working Journalist Lecture Series sponsored by the university's Communications & Media Studies Department.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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