How can mainstream media get out of its bubble and report on what voters are really thinking? LSE student Marie Reverchon reports on French newsrooms efforts to re-connect to citizens across the country in the build-up to the vital national elections next month.

Le Monde’s #FrançaisesFrançais is a special reporting project that aims to tap into the real lives of French people. This is partly to help our disconnected politicians figure out what their voters really want and need. But what is also great about this initiative, is that it admits that politicians are not the only ones who need reconnection.

Reading the series of #FrançaisesFrançais interviews called « Grand Format », published in February, one can wonder: who’s this is all about: journalists or politicians? Here are some of the questions repeatedly asked by the journalists to ordinary French people:

« If you were a journalist, who would you interview?»

« What questions do you want to ask to French people? »

« What is the last information that stood you out in the news? »

« What are the last three things you posted on Facebook? »

« If you were in my shoes, where would you go to make a reportage? »

So what journalists really want to know is how to make their audience feel better represented in journalists work. In this time of presidential campaigning, journalists seem to be campaigning for readers’ trust as much as politicians are campaigning for voters’s trust.

Both ‘professions’ have just been hit hard in the face. The Brexit, the American presidential election, the French primaries of the right and then of the left, resulted in the traditional politicians losing their seats, and the traditional media their credibility in terms of prediction and political analysis. But why do journalists end up facing a similar challenge of trust to politicians? As their powers usually balance each other, and journalists are often considered the watchdogs of politicians, shouldn’t journalists be gaining trust while politicians lose theirs, and vice versa?

The main reason is the « bubble » phenomenon – a common feature to both species. Politicians seem to easily forget about the price of the croissant, or about what is a (real) parliamentary job or a decent salary. Journalists live in a bubble in which they seem to easily forget about the subjectivity of their own perspective, and about the truth of other ordinary people.

The upcoming elections are very exciting because all of these bubbles are exploding. French politicians are used to bubble explosions, to corruption scandals and to keep campaigning through it. Journalists, on the other hand, are facing trust issues on a scale they are not used to deal with. Especially as trust issues are not only triggered by a disconnection of perspectives, but also by a disconnection of simple truth. Journalists are used to fighting falsehood as part of their job. But they were not prepared for the rise of deliberate ‘fake news’. Also, journalists were not prepared to have their work put on the same level as the fake news peddlers.  It’s harder and harder to tell the difference between the voice of professional journalists and other voices.

Need To Reconnect

All of this showed journalists they need to reconnect with their audience by taking into account their perspective and through a new media system, adapted to the audience’s new online habits. So, this is why traditional medias found themselves in the same dead end as politicians and need to campaign hard for trust: both their content and form don’t fit their audience anymore. As much as old school corruption or lukewarm policy programs don’t satisfy voters anymore.

Le Monde fact-checking

Journalists are campaigning using projects like #FrançaiseFrançais to show the will of traditional media to reconnect with their lost audience, or projects like Decodex a platform to fact check and label pieces of news as trustworthy or not, made to fight fake news on a new scale.

As for the politicians? Well they seem to be campaigning using extremist or ‘populist’ ideas, like Melenchon, Le Pen and Fillon – or using the novelty argument and grandiose ideologies, like Macron and Hamon. Which ‘profession’ will manage to rebuild the trust of their audience in the course of this presidential campaign? Hopefully the watchdogs of the powerful and then the powerful themselves.

This article by LSE student Marie Reverchon