MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on modern media and millennials

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By Rebecca Rashid

WASHINGTON On Friday, October 19, The SAIS Observer spoke with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, to get an insider opinion on the hysteria surrounding modern media. At a time when news outlets cover everything from the mysterious death of a Saudi journalist to Kanye West’s White House visit, cable news hosts are often at a crossroads between balancing journalistic integrity and the bureaucratic expectations of their institutions.

Through constant innovation and relentless hurdles in journalism, fellow students and civilians alike are increasingly weary of journalistic credibility and its ability to elicit substantive political change. Chris Hayes, former host of MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes and editor of The Nation, is navigating these ups and downs to improve public consciousness as best he can. As he sees it, the world was better off in some respects when everyone read the newspaper during their morning commute.

What’s something you struggle with day to day as a journalist in the current political climate? Do you feel like you’re fulfilling your civic duty as a journalist given the daily reporting expectations you must face at MSNBC?

Yeah, I mean, it’s hard. I mean, you’re cross-pressured. You’re trying to keep people’s attention while also giving them the information that’s important. A lot of times, the things that are the most important are not what grab people’s attention the most, and you never resolve that tension. You just try to navigate it as best you can.

Why are millennials so dejected when it comes to news consumption? A lot of us don’t read the news consistently and don’t watch cable news much.

[laughs] Is that true? You know the death of newspapers really had an effect, I mean they’re not dead, but the sort of defamation of them. And the habit and ritual of them. As a way of delivering the news, the newspaper is a pretty great technology in that once a day, here’s a curated package, it’s like the Blue Apron of journalism. Once a day you get this package, here it’s bounded, you open it up and you read through the stories and you get a pretty good sense of what’s going on in the country and in the world. And in the absence of that, it’s like this sort of constant overwhelming barrage, where you’re always encountering news but never focusing on it.

I think the idea of habituating to watching live TV at a certain time, to watching a live TV program, is out of the habit for people and that’s true for myself largely. There was a time in my life when I knew what shows were on when, and now if I want to watch something I watch it on the 90 different platforms that I can pull it up on.

Or scroll on Twitter aimlessly!

That’s a big part of it, and I think that’s a real problem actually: this complete, constant barrage of endless amounts of information some good, some bad uncrated that we’ve kind of asked people to curate themselves. And, I do think that makes it more intimidating and also more difficult. In some ways it’s easier, right? You can write about anything at any time. You can read an in-depth article about internment refugee camps in China, you can pull up five of them.

Or watch five VICE documentaries on that exact topic.

Right, but that’s if you have an interest. But in terms of having that ritual or habit of going to one place and being like, “Okay, here’s what’s happening, here’s the storytelling around it and why it matters.”

I think you as a cable news host or someone who is more of a news curator who decides what’s reported, if you see that as a problem, how would you encourage students or young people to navigate that? Is it a matter of self-control at this point?

It’s not the worst thing on your morning commute to just read the New York Times or The Washington Post.

Could you limit it to just that?

I mean, yes. I honestly think that if you want to listen to Morning Edition for 40 minutes while you get ready and read The Wash Po on your iPhone where the articles pull out pretty quickly, that’s a pretty good basic amount of civic knowledge to have. I mean obviously I want people to watch my show.

And they do! I’ve taken a poll at my school and multiple people said you’re their favorite cable news host.

I don’t believe that.

I promise, I asked multiple people the same day and didn’t even prompt them.

I mean, yeah, you can watch our show, or other shows. Part of the thing that I think is a little daunting is there’s people who are reading the news all day. You don’t have to spend the whole day reading the news, if you’re not working in the industry.

But I don’t think a lot of young people with a smartphone see it like that. And, now it’s more of a mindless activity, scrolling back and forth. So, do you think too much news consumption is a bad thing?

No, I don’t think so, but it depends what they’re reading. That’s the other issue. I mean, you could read Infowars all day.

So, I guess it depends what your echo chamber of choice is, which makes it harder to stay on top of the other side’s opinion. Is there a misconception of cable news and how it’s run? How do you respond to fake news accusations?

I think people are making stuff up, when there’s a lot of people working hard trying to get it right. Sometimes they fail and usually, hopefully, own up to that and make it correct. And again, the practice of reporting does matter. Calling people, checking on facts, vetting those facts and making sure they can stand behind what they report.

In the midst of all the liberal/conservative leaning networks there are now, do you think that could ever change?

It’s hard to imagine in the current political climate that coming into being. But, you know, I think NPR is a crucial national institution. PBS, CSPAN are all, sort of, in the public interest. I think those are the sorts of things that are important. I think media landscapes entirely dominated by commercial media interests are going to skew in certain ways.

Do you still think student journalism is important?

Yeah, I mean, it’s really important to learn. It’s a really great skill set to learn, what are the facts of the matter of a certain situation, where are people coming from on it, what happened, who did what, when. The basic parts of that are both incredible life skills for all sorts of things you might do, but also an elemental part of how civil society functions.