Week after week, by my calculation, I read the New York Times, and for years I thought it was a paper with deep experience of both the world and the American people.
Last November I went to Columbus, Ohio, at the invitation of the Columbus Dispatch and its reporter, Barbara Opall-Rome.
Though I knew New York Times sources, I felt a spark of excitement when I was sitting in the newsroom. Both of my previous journalism internships had been with Columbus Dispatch reporters. I knew what they did every day. Our stories were covered by reporters I respected, who were one of a kind. I felt a part of a grand tradition of one of America’s greatest journalism institutions.
Now I realize this tradition is changing.
Last week I left Columbus for an experience I can only describe as leaving the sacred sanctuary of journalism for the world of reality TV. The situation being presented for me by the Times was far from ideal. As a byline journalist, I’m dependent on my editors, news editors who actually care what news story comes across my byline, not the type of media that came across.
But, let’s be clear: reality TV does not care about the truth, only ratings and relevance.
My position at the Times was so uninspiring, I can’t name a single good quality that I contributed, let alone one I provided that shaped the publication’s worldview and beliefs.
I left Columbus the day before the Ohio and Mississippi primaries, and I immediately started watching shows on TBN, one of the largest Christian networks in the world. I was planning on returning to Columbus right after the primary, but, instead, I stayed until the February 26 Super Tuesday primaries.
From there, I headed to Louisiana, which hosted the last primary of the cycle. I wanted to see the entire country, and then go to the March 4 primaries. I arrived in Louisiana on March 1, officially booking my trip to the Red States.
My time with the Times, and the issues of Trump versus Clinton dominated the story lines. After five months, I was on my way.
More importantly, though, I wanted to discover the community that the Associated Press and most major American newspapers (The Washington Post among them) largely ignore. I wanted to witness the meaning of the Republican primary, and the significance of the turnout, and the difference between conservative and liberal voters.
And, surprisingly, Trump’s streak was more about racism and sexism, and false equivalencies of issue, than other issues like immigration.
Why did this happen? Because America is failing. As the president tweeted, “We’re allowing millions of illegal immigrants to come into our country, in many cases thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands a year. The rest of the world — they pay a fortune.”
Sure, we lose American jobs. Sure, we lose American lives. Sure, there is a culture of heroin in the Midwest and areas like Appalachia that have an addiction crisis. But, these are problems that will only be solved by fixing our broken economy, the dysfunctional politics, the hollowing out of our middle class, and the climate change driven by our carbon footprint.
The real pushback from voters is coming from the type of people I would never have considered before the 2016 presidential election.
I believe, for this generation, politics has become a game and not a show. In the newsroom of the New York Times, these Americans were represented and kept out of story lines that were long on statistics but short on the practical and the actual.
I walked away from Columbus with a sharp sense of place.
But, my time with the Times, and the issues of Trump versus Clinton dominated the story lines. After five months, I was on my way.
According to Gallup, only 16 percent of Americans currently have “a great deal of confidence” in the media. But, my time in America was honestly a little more exhilarating than the future of American journalism.
I admit, it’s a small consolation in the wake of the election and so much fanfare, that the faith I once had in journalism remains very much intact.
Cameron Wolfe is a contributor for Fox News. Previously, he worked at the Associated Press, reporting for the Nashville Scene, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, and The Washington Times. Follow him on Twitter at @Cam Wolfe.