It's true that the media has no Constitution-given power to call elections -- The Electoral College picks the president based on the votes of each state, and whoever gets 270 electoral votes wins the presidential election.
We could wait until the Electoral College meets Dec. 14, or, more officially, Congress declares the winner on Jan. 6 (here's a rundown on the process24), but we didn’t wait on that four years ago when Trump won11, or at any time since the 1800s -- and there’s no clear reason to do so now.
As AP describes it14, "In that strange vacuum created by a federalist system and worsened — in the 1800s — by the slow counting and communicating of returns, news organizations emerged as major players in first, collecting and adding together the vote from each state’s election officials around the country, then announcing the victor based on that vote count."
What does that mean?
The collecting and adding together the vote process works like this: Media organizations analyze the ballots that come in (either through states reporting them or through a ballot service that compiles all the data, such as Edison Research20) and see if the trailing candidate can catch up. If they can't, the news outlet can call the race. Here are all of the major news outlets' methods on calling races.24
Media outlets have been helping call races since 1848. To "call" a race just means that the ballots that are in show a clear victor either by 100% of the vote count being in OR an analysis of reported ballots show that one candidate can't catch up in any scenario (i.e. 10,845,319 ballots for Biden and 5,811,219 ballots for Trump in California).
How did we at Herald/Review Media do it?
Our process for gathering and disseminating this information was almost the same. We used vote counts directly from the Arizona Secretary of State results page23 as well as the page specifically for Cochise County12 which showed the real time updates of votes that were counted. The difference was, we didn't analyze the trailing counts, and on election night we trusted other sources that called races.
Have any other further questions? Let me know below!