Prospects for the American press under Trump, part two
Winter is coming. But there are things that can be done. The second half of my post on the American press under threat. (Part one is here: http://pressthink.org/2016/12/winter-coming-prospects-american-press-trump/
By Jay Rosen
Dec 30 2016
In part one of this post, I described in 17 numbered paragraphs a bleak situation for the American press as a check on power, now that Donald Trump has been elected. My summary of it went like this:
Low trust all around, an emboldened and nationalist right wing that treats the press as natural enemy, the bill coming due for decades of coasting on a model in political reporting that worked well for “junkies” but failed to engage the rest of us, the strange and disorientating fact that reality itself seems to have become a weaker force in politics, the appeal of the “strong man” and his propaganda within an atmosphere of radical doubt, the difficulty of applying standard methods of journalism to a figure in power who is not trying to represent reality but to substitute himself for it as a show of strength, the unsuitability of prior routine as professionals in journalism try to confront these confusing conditions, a damaged economic base, weak institutional structure and newsroom mono-culture that hinders any creative response, and a dawning recognition that freedom of the press is a fragile state, not a constitutional certainty.
This is a crisis with many overlapping and deep-seated causes, not just a problem but what scholars call a wicked problem— a mess. You don’t “solve” messes, you approach them with humility and respect for their beastliness. Trying things you know won’t “fix” it can teach you more about the problem’s wickedness. That’s progress. Realizing that no one is an expert in the problem helps, because it means that good ideas can come from anywhere.
Being willing to start over is good, too. If I were running a big national desk in DC, I would try to zero-base the beat structure. Meaning: if you had no existing beats for covering national affairs in Donald Trump’s America, if you had to create them all from scratch, what would that system look like?
Is that going to fix what’s broken in political journalism? Nope. But trying it might reveal possibilities that were harder to see before. So let me be clear about this: I don’t have solutions to what I described in part one. And I’m not saying my suggestions are equal to the task. They are not. Rather, this is what I can think of. I have a series of small ideas that might be worth trying and a larger one to spell out.
I wish had better answers for you.
Measures worth taking (not “solutions.”)
27. Uncouple the news agenda from Trump’s Twitter feed. I don’t agree with those who say the press should ignore Trump’s tweets. Even calling them tweets is in a way an illusion. These are public statements from the president-elect. Bulletins from the top. Naming them for their means of delivery (Twitter) doesn’t help. They can’t be ignored any more than an announcement on whitehouse.gov can be disregarded.
But it is true that Trump uses his Twitter feed to deflect, distract, intimidate, monopolize and confuse. The press should find a way of handling — and fact-checking — these bulletins that shrinks them into a sidebar, or weaves them into a larger story originated by journalists rather than Trump’s Twitter finger. (One option: annotation.) Don’t let his feed set your agenda. And learn to be more careful with your headlines! That may be all he wants: your lazy headline.