NANTICOKE, Pa. — Sarah Scintilla turned 18 last summer, quickly registered as a Republican and, in November, enthusiastically voted for Donald Trump.
Her media diet was what friends shared on Facebook (including local news) and CNN (“my go-to”).
The motivation behind her vote? Negative changes in her home town, nearby Hazleton.
“It used to be a great place, but now it’s a lot of immigrants and crime,” the nursing student at Luzerne County Community College said.
“They had to put metal detectors in at the high school. It’s so much worse now.” Trump’s vow to bring back better times resonated.
But Scintilla’s politics alienated some of her online buddies. “A lot of my Facebook friends,” she admitted, “aren’t my friends anymore.”
All politics is local, House Speaker Tip O’Neill said. That goes for news, too — at least here in Luzerne County, where the voter registration is about three-to-two Democratic, where Barack Obama won twice — and where Trump crushed Hillary Clinton in November.
Ask people here about their news habits, as I did last week, and you’ll discover that their choices transcend easy categories and inside-the-Beltway perceptions (like, for example, that CNN is for liberals). And you’ll hear, over and over, that what matters most are the news sources that are closest to home.
Trump may have effectively demonized the national media. But in a dozen interviews here last week, Luzerne residents indicated their satisfaction with their main news sources: WNEP Channel 16, the ABC affiliate in Wilkes-Barre; and the two competing Wilkes-Barre daily papers: the Citizens’ Voice (which endorsed Clinton) and the Times Leader (which made no endorsement).
“I subscribe to both” newspapers, said Donna Geiser, a 64-year-old special education teacher at the community college who has a heavy media mix of radio and TV news, including WNEP. “Overall, I think they all try to be fair.”
As a college-educated Clinton voter, Geiser is atypical here. In this former coal-mining region by the Susquehanna River in northeast Pennsylvania, one in five adults has a college degree.
“We’re the poster child for Donald Trump here,” a college administrator, Ann Saxton, told me ruefully. A Clinton voter, 55-year-old Saxton regularly reads The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as the local papers.
Gregory Ciego, a 41-year-old U.S. Navy recruiter, agreed: “It feels very Trump here — the signs, the conversations.” Ciego, who is African American, said he is troubled by “a racial divide” that has developed with the influx of Hispanic residents.
“People aren’t too happy about that change,” he said.
Ciego describes his media habits as “everything on the Internet” — WNEP’s online site, CNN, Fox News. And he watches Channel 16 almost every night. But news-savvy as he is, he didn’t vote.
“Neither one of them,” Ciego said, “had anything to offer me.”
Trump did offer these potential voters his physical presence. He showed up twice during the campaign, greeted by overflow crowds at the Mohegan Sun arena in Wilkes-Barre. Clinton didn’t come to Luzerne County.
Local newspapers and TV played up Trump’s rallies and showed his supporters gleefully joining him in trashing the national press.
“Drop dead, media!” they chanted. “CNN sucks!”
But those bad feelings don’t seem to apply to the local press or the broadcast nightly news.
“Maybe they do cherry-pick and repeat too much, but the reporting seems pretty fair,” said Joel Oliver, a 42-year-old electrical engineering student who watches Channel 16 news every night along with the ABC national news. “I think they give Trump the benefit of the doubt.” A registered Democrat, he didn’t vote last November.
Down the road in West Nanticoke, neon beer signs beckon at J.J. Banko’s seafood restaurant as the sky darkens.
Inside, the ever-present Channel 16 news flickers on the overhead TVs. But the sound is off and classic rock blares. When “The Weight” comes on — “I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half-past dead” — a few bar patrons break into a brief singalong.
All-male, these were die-hard Trump supporters, in full agreement with the president’s hard-line stances on restrictive immigration and America-first trade. They watch Fox News and some read the Times Leader.
One exception was Dave Kuniega, a bearded, 40-year-old construction worker. After following “whatever pops up on my phone” and Channel 16, nothing gave him any enthusiasm for either candidate. So, he stayed home: “It was the first time I didn’t vote.”
Angey Hartman, 50, lives about an hour away in Benton, where every day she walks to the newspaper box to buy the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise.
An antiabortion Christian, Hartman voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. But she flipped from blue to red after deciding that Clinton was untrustworthy and weak on national security.
“I didn’t want to feel like she’d be lying to me,” said the stay-at-home mother, whose autistic son attends Luzerne’s community college. Her husband, a laborer at Girton Manufacturing in Millville, voted for Trump, too, she said.
Hartman is not on Facebook and doesn’t watch cable news. Like many others, she relies on her local newspaper and on broadcast TV: Channel 16 and ABC’s “World News.”
She thinks her media sources play it straight — or, at least, they don’t seem wildly liberal.
If anything, Hartman said, “they might be biased toward Trump.”
For more by Margaret Sullivan, visit wapo.st/sullivan