86 pieces of journalism wisdom published in the month since the election
It’s been a month.
In the days since the election, a number of articles have been written about the lessons journalists can take from the presidential campaign. Pieces have also focused on what journalists should or must do over the next few months. CJR staff writer David Uberti wrote this three days after the election:
It feels as if we’ve collectively aged years over the past three days, as a cascade of takes on what the hell journalism got wrong has distracted the press from the important work of figuring out how to cover a potentially dangerous Trump presidency. We’ve done what we do best: made the story of 2016 about ourselves. Narcissistic self-immolation is the ideal form of suicide for an industry distrusted by the public but thirsty for post-election content.
Looking ahead, here are 86 good deep dives from people — some journalists, some not — that I’ve collected over the past month. The topic: What’s been done, and what journalists can (or should) do next.
“Understand realistic threats and with a clear head, encourage sources to use secure communications when practical. We’re in abnormal times; normalize new habits. There are some simple steps journalists can take to better protect themselves and their sources.” - Martin Shelton, Open News Fellow
“It’s in Trump’s interest to paint the press as an oppositional political force through these skirmishes….Whereas national newspapers and TV outlets attempt to delineate between their supposedly neutral coverage and media activism, momentum is building among many digital upstarts and magazines behind the idea that Trump’s presidency should be framed as a broader threat to American political norms.” - David Uberti, CJR staff writer and senior Delacorte fellow
“We also need to do a far better job of encouraging open communication among the journalists already in newsrooms, because if people are too afraid to point out our blind spots, even the pitiful diversity we already have can’t offer us much. I know far too many well-intentioned, brilliant white male editors who dismiss or fail to take seriously the concerns of their younger, more diverse staff members — and when it happens to my former students, it breaks my heart. And it does. Regularly.” - Carrie Brown, Social Journalism Director at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
“Journalistic culture needs to change. We need to focus more on listening, on dialog, and on building real communities of journalists and readers.” - Andrew Losowsky, The Coral Project
"'Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt!' said Bangi when I asked him what an Iranian journalist might advise an American reporter working under Trump’s NSA. 'And if it's not safe anymore, leave.' - Kaveh Waddell, associate editor, The Atlantic
“Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just. Now is the time to speak up and to wear as a badge of honor the opprobrium of bigots. Now is the time to confront the weak core at the heart of America’s addiction to optimism; it allows too little room for resilience, and too much for fragility.” - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, novelist and essayist
“Facebook has a dream of being a media platform without being a media company. Media companies have to pay employees to produce and vet media. Media platforms merely consume voluntary content and profit from advertising it. I’d rather be a platform, too. It seems like a much better gig. It is, however, a gig for which our society isn’t yet set up for. Legitimacy still matters. And as social life becomes more complex, legitimacy may matter more and not less.” - Tressie McMillan Cottom, sociology professor, Faculty associate at Berkman Center for Internet & Society
“For legacy news media operations to behave as outsiders could be invigorating. Treating access as strictly transactional, rather than as some sort of norm, could reduce, or make transparent, its role in the reporting process. To focus solely on holding power to account is as concise a definition of journalism as I can think of.” - John Herrman, The New York Times
“It’s harder to tell the harder story, that 'working people' aren’t just white. That they are also black, brown, disabled, Muslim and more.” - Anjali Enjeti, essayist and journalist
“Increasing collaboration and partnerships among professional journalists at local newspapers, TV and radio stations, digital-only organizations and nonprofit news groups, both state-based and national, holds promise. Such work has started but must be accelerated and should identify approaches that both expand participants’ audiences and are financially sustainable.” - Joyce Dehli, co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board
"Misplaced fairness and an overabundance of caution will make us soothing guides on the road to autocracy. It will also make us irrelevant. We might lose listeners but we will gain them, too. Together, if we are all doing our part, public media can serve our public by serving democracy, which is what we’re here for. I believe we can come out of this process even stronger and more indispensable than when we went in." - Rekha Murthy, independent strategist
“These smaller organizations have a hard enough time breaking through the noise of the mainstream media, please don’t force them to also compete with the viral spread of these fake stories that play all too well to peoples’ emotions, and often, their fear.” - Adam Schweigert, Senior Director of Product and Technology at INN, in an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg
“Attributing Donald Trump’s electoral success exclusively, or even primarily, to media and technological change is to dangerously abstract from the conditions that made it possible, even as new technologies have undoubtedly proved tactically effective for the candidate.” - Daniel Kreiss, Associate Professor, School of Media and Journalism, UNC-Chapel Hill
“Here is a thing about audiences, and about news: they can care about multiple things at the same time, and there will always be multiple stories happening at once. Here is another thing about audiences, and about news: they will not care about everything equally all the time, and newsrooms will always have to prioritize their coverage of the multiple stories happening at once.” - Stacy-Marie Ishmael, JSK Fellow, Stanford University
“The FOIA, notably, places no limit on the number of requests an agency can receive or a person can submit. And it is with this fact in mind—and Trump’s well-documented fondness for superlatives—that I suggest we make Donald Trump the most FOIA-requested president in US history.” - Philip Eil, freelance journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island
“I’ve spent nearly 10 years coaching Facebook — and Instagram and Twitter — on what kinds of news and photos I don’t want to see, and they all behaved accordingly. Each time I liked an article, or clicked on a link, or hid another, the algorithms that curate my streams took notice and showed me only what they thought I wanted to see. That meant I didn’t realize that most of my family members, who live in rural Virginia, were voicing their support for Trump online, and I didn’t see any of the pro-Trump memes that were in heavy circulation before the election.” - Jenna Wortham, The New York Times Magazine
“Perhaps my most valuable lesson from Mexico is to believe, against all odds, in the power of story, the unmitigated truth, because truth still matters. Truth is our best defense. Truth is our most important protection. Truth is our best weapon.” - Alfredo Corchado, co-director of the Borderlands Program at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.
“America may also be (slowly) moving away from a hierarchical system of journalism, which encouraged aspiring reporters to tromp around the country from job to job, seeking greater prestige and opportunity at publications with higher circulation or viewership, and seeing a bit of the country along the way. A depressed media market makes job-hopping harder, and besides, there are plenty of reporting jobs available in Washington, D.C., or New York.” - Andrew McGill, The Atlantic
“The stories in our own backyards tether us—an urge we resist with the quiet, hidden calm of Facebook-like intensity — but that local connection is our salvation. It can redeem our journalism and our politics.” - Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“While we can go back and forth on the legitimacy of the media bias charges that have been flung at the industry for decades, you will never even begin to shake that impression without doing a better job of bringing different voices into your newsrooms. These voters aren’t listening to you, because they don’t think you are listening to them.” - Heather Bryant, JSK Fellow, Stanford University
“You need to band together around positive principles—independence, accountability, ethical standards, and the defence of your rights, which must be fought for both in the broad constitutional brushstrokes and the narrow detail of regulation and practice. Judging by the recent barrage of anti-semitic and racist threats to journalists, you will also need to address both the climate of hate and specific concerns around safety.” - Nic Dawes, former editor in chief of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, leading media at Human Rights Watch in New York.
“Journalists need to understand what Trump is doing and refuse to play by his rules. He is going to use the respect and deference typically accorded to the presidency as an instrument for spreading more lies. Reporters must refuse to treat him like a normal president and refuse to bestow any unearned legitimacy on his administration. They must also give up their posture of high-minded objectivity — and, along with it, any hope of privileged access to the Trump White House.” - Ned Resnikoff, Think Progress
“Trump's Twitter can't become the assignment desk of the national media. The burden of proof can't be on the media to disprove every crazy claim that the president-elect makes. The story here is the president-elect, the United States has yet again made a baseless claim. That is the story. The story is that the president-elect is more factually irresponsible than any political leader in the United States in memory. That's the story. The details of exactly how this particular claim is false are really, at some point, a second-order concern. These stories have to de-emphasize the claim itself, emphasize the news value of the president-elect being so widely irresponsible.” - Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth political science professor
“How do we identify information that is tinted — information that is incomplete, that may help affirm our existing beliefs or support someone’s agenda, or that may be manipulative — effectively driving a form of propaganda?” - Gilad Lotan, chief data scientist, Betaworks
“Journalists need to do everything possible to protect themselves and their sources when traveling over any border — including into or out of the United States.” - Trevor Trimm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation
“To report on the United States we need reporters in every state. News organizations need journalists that are engaged with individuals and their communities. Dropping a New York journalist into Madison, WI, or adding a few more questions to our polls will not lead to accurate reporting. Journalists once again have to build trust within communities so that individuals become willing to share their thoughts and feelings.” - Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, executive director, The Media Consortium
“The media-political-big money axis has created a process where moving apart plays better than coming together, and performance triumphs over substance.” - Mike Pride, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.
“Journalists also have to start getting comfortable with defending themselves.” - CJR’s Bryan Borzykowski, who interviewed Canadian journalists who covered late Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
“The last thing Facebook wants is to contradict you in any way. The sanction would be immediate: you’d click/share much less; even worse, you might cut your session short. Therefore, Facebook has no choice but keeping you in the warm, comfort of the cosy environment you created click after click.” - Frederic Filloux, editor, The Monday Note
“I have read dozens of longform pieces this election season about the plight of the white working class. I’ve skipped over many more because I’m fucking done with it. The white working class was not under-covered. The problem is not that we don’t understand the white working class. The problem is that they’re not the only people here.” — Priya Jain, Bust magazine
“We need to get better at polling — or get better at ignoring it. We need to get better at working with technology companies to make accuracy a value that they cherish much the way that we do. And we need to teach people to vet the quality of their news much the way that we teach them to vet their sources for a term paper.” - Evan Osnos, staff writer, The New Yorker
“Despite that, however, if the media is to have any principles at all, it has to call out falsehoods wherever they appear — especially if they come from the President of the United States—and to do so regardless of whether they believe that it is going to affect the way anyone actually thinks about him. To do otherwise would be to allow fake news and propaganda to win.” - Matthew Ingram, Fortune
“There has to be room to confront myths about people of different ethnicities as they emerge in policy debates. I’ll also ask colleagues to refrain from labeling me as biased when I point out that an alleged fact is a racist myth.” - Ricardo Sandoval Palos, managing editor of 100 Reporters, a non-profit investigative news organization, and board president with the Fund for Investigative Journalism
“Both the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of Trump were stories in part about identity, race, and culture. And I think at times the press either failed to understand these stories were about identity or was not fluent in discussing that aspect of them.” - Perry Bacon, senior political reporter for NBC News.
“These national outlets are, almost by definition, out of touch with local audiences. But the local newspaper where readers might have known and trusted a columnist or editorial board is long gone.” - Alex Stonehill, cofounder and editor The Seattle Globalist
“We need diversity of all kinds in the newsroom, especially from places where catching a few classes at the community college can take as much Herculean effort as getting into Harvard. So that means maybe overlooking the empty box by degrees from time to time.” - Diana Marcum, writer, Los Angeles Times
“We should also dig out our helmets and flak jackets, harden our legal defenses, and get ready for the coming war on transparency. Here are eight steps to take immediately.” - Dana Priest, the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Maryland’s journalism school
“The media is supposed to be a check to power, but, for years now, it has basked in becoming power in its own right. What worries me right now is that, as it continues to report out the spectacle, it has no structure for self-reflection, for understanding its weaknesses, its potential for manipulation.” - danah boyd, Data & Society, NYU
“I think the test for journalists now will be to capture the real people behind the stereotypes. If they are racists or homophobes, of course call them out on it. But if they are people who just think differently from you—people who enjoy shooting animals, say—don’t belittle them. Engage with them; listen to their stories. This election was about people wanting to be heard. And that’s what we do best.” - Kari Howard, editor of Nieman Storyboard
"While newsrooms have begun to talk more about diversity, it is more often seen in terms of race and gender than class and geography. But if voters are making decisions based on identity and values, rather than facts, it becomes even more important for newsrooms to look and sound like their audiences." - Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor, New Statesman
“We should focus on being more local, more networked, more diverse, and fiercely independent. This will improve community access to reliable information, rebuild trust in us, and strengthen democracy.” - Michael Oreskes, NPR's senior vice president of news and editorial director.
“We have tools now for remote meetings and remote document collaboration and remote project management. Why does your entire masthead live in New York or D.C.? There’s simply no need for this in 2016, and having different perspectives on an ongoing basis will diversify coverage and the way we write about our sources.” - Melody Kramer, Visiting Journalist at Duke; Poynter columnist
“We can apply news judgment in that moment between tweet and retweet rather than serve as accomplices to destructive claims.” - Ann Marie Lipinski, curator, The Nieman Foundation
“It is ironic how strikingly similar the issues in today’s media landscape are to what motivated journalists to embark on civic journalism experiments in the 1990’s. So striking, that many civic journalists say that journalists would not have miscalled the presidential election if they had done basic civic listening.” - Jan Schaffer, director, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.
"We recommit ourselves to doing our jobs. We help readers make sense of their world. We link the present to the context of the past. When we’re not sure, we turn to historians and academics for help. And we listen to colleagues who are black and brown and immigrant and LGBT and members of other historically marginalized groups." - Wendi C. Thomas, 2016 Harvard Nieman fellow and a senior writing fellow with the Center for Community Change.
“It doesn’t matter if journalists believe we’re trustworthy; it’s what news consumers think. It also doesn’t matter who we blame for the problem — Facebook, clickbait sites, Trump, Twitter, news consumers themselves — but what we’re going to do to fix it.” - Cory Bergman, GM breakingnews.com
"Consider 'bipartisan' collaboration on stories." - Raquel Rutledge, Investigative Reporter, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“We are hearing a lot, in the wake of post-election analysis, about how our leading journalistic organizations failed to hear and tell the stories of working class and rural Americans. But there’s another issue, too. Which of those organizations is prepared to deliver those stories in forms the broad majority of Americans desire to consume? It is possible to deliver high -quality intellectual content in basic language and in visual-oral forms. To what degree should every news organization be responsible for attempting that?” - Danielle Allen, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and Professor of Government and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University
“I believe that restoring credibility for journalism must include rebuilding the capacity for journalists to work within the communities they cover.” - Jeff Young, managing editor of Louisville Public Media’s Ohio Valley ReSource.
“Our journalistic and political assumption is that each side to a debate will “try” to tell the truth—and will count it as a setback if they’re caught making things up. Until now the idea has been that if you can show a contrast between words and actions, claim and reality, it may not bring the politician down, but it will hurt. For instance: Bill Clinton survived “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but he was damaged then, and lastingly, when the truth came out. To close the loop, knowledge of the risks of being caught has encouraged most politicians to minimize provable lies. None of this works with Donald Trump.” - James Fallows, The Atlantic
“Universities need to be teaching media literacy courses that force our generation to challenge our own views, give opposing arguments a chance and allow us to move away from these echo chambers.” - Will Jarvis, student, Missouri School of Journalism
“I want to ask journalists – here and in America and everywhere – to be activists. Activists for freedom of expression, among the liberties that are at the core of societies where freedom is an institution, not just a word. Activists for media literacy, the foundation of which is critical thinking. Activists, because if we don’t do this we’ll be helping the authoritarians and failing to serve our fellow citizens.” - Dan Gillmor, Professor of Practice, Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“We have to keep doing our jobs of truth-telling, challenging power and holding those in power accountable — as the best journalists did during the campaign itself.” - Margaret Sullivan, Media Columnist, Washington Post
“Think beyond traditional story forms.” - Bill Adair, Professor of Journalism, Duke University
“The media is not ready to cover this president. And unless something changes, the American people, and possibly the rest of the world, will pay for it.” - Adam Serwer, senior editor, The Atlantic
“You can observe him with clinical detachment and document his every move. You can ferret out and make certain to broadcast every inevitable betrayal of the promises he made to his supporters. You can write in-depth profiles of the people who stand behind the people who stand behind the people he brings in to serve in his administration. You can measure the extent to which he will find himself in over his head, revert to his business model, and serve simply as the branded figurehead of government. You can pursue the good, old-fashioned method of following the money, more of which will flow into the coffers of this administration and its cronies than any presidency in the history of the country.” - Lee Siegel, author
“The real story is out among the people, not inside the campaign bubble.” - Phil Boas, Editorial Director, Arizona Republic
“I will argue in favor of investment in new, conservative media. Of course, I’ll also argue that other underserved communities—African American, Latino, LGBTQ, disabled, to name only a few—also deserve such direct and relevant service. But it was angry, white voters who bred Trumpism, so they, too, need attention—urgently.” - Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.
“Ask people like Trump follow-up questions in real time.” - Steve Brill, author and journalist
“It’s crucial for ethical journalists to find a way to earn back the public’s trust to preserve the value of effective, accurate reporting.” - Eric Deggans, TV critic, NPR
“We are our contradictions. Categories like conservative, liberal, working class, elite, whites, and minorities fail to capture the complexity of the people we know and respect. In fairness, they were never designed to. Unlike the labels we affix to one another, people can change.” - Yvonne Leow, storytelling at Sequoia, Asian-American Journalist Association Vice President
“Authority must come out of the barrel of deep reporting, and will be inevitably confused with bias and opinion.” - Ken Doctor, media analyst
“The biggest lesson is don’t ignore what the public wants.” - Amy Hollyfield, deputy managing editor, Tampa Bay Times
“Political stereotypes and conventions that we accept as gospel and carved into stone tablets somewhere can be cast aside at any moment, depending on the mood of the voting populace.” - William March, freelance Florida political reporter
“It’s good to remind ourselves that the media aren’t in the business of telling people what to think. And we shouldn’t assess our success or failure by how many voters 'agree with us' — whatever that means.” - Keven Ann Willey, Vice President and Editorial Page Editor at The Dallas Morning News and co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board.
“Stop running from finger-pointers with our tail between our legs and let’s be honest in our reporting.” - Shereen Marisol Meraji, Reporter, NPR Code Switch
“I would offer two [lessons]: the importance of reporting that deeply values research, and the importance of diverse perspectives.” - Katherine Miller, political editor, Buzzfeed
“Pay attention to the electorate.” - Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent, POLITICO
“There is a role for publishers to play, but the onus is on us to ensure that we’re as transparent as possible about what those values are.” - Denise Law, Community editor at The Economist
“Many journalists wonder with considerable weariness what it is going to be like for us during the next four—perhaps eight—years. Will we be incessantly harassed and vilified? Will the new administration seize on opportunities to try intimidating us? Will we face obstruction at every turn? If so, what do we do? The answer, I believe, is pretty simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done.” - Marty Baron, The Washington Post
“I don't think journalism failed; I think journalism was failed. If they're not given the resources and space they need to do their job, the job won't get done.” - Brooke Binkowski, the managing editor of Snopes.com, in an interview with Sean Illing at Vox
“The biggest lesson we’ve learned is that, by and large, Americans are tuning out journalists, and journalism.” - Tracie Powell, Founder, All Digitocracy
“The biggest lesson for journalists this election season is how little we actually understand or relate to the American electorate.” - Emily Ramshaw, editor-in-chief, Texas Tribune.
“Fight normalization in media. We’ll start to see the morning shows doing fluffy profiles of Melania and Ivanka almost immediately, along with “humanizing” articles and profiles of Trump following closely behind. These will be part of a concerted effort to make it seem as if Trump fits into a normal pattern of political practice in this country. We need to steadfastly, aggressively call out this threat by reminding media of his outrageous behavior and holding them accountable.” - Anil Dash, entrepreneur, activist and writer
“To me, the biggest lesson is the fragility of our democratic system, and how much has to go right for honest journalism to have any role in the republic.” - Jay Rosen, associate professor, New York University
“Sometimes it helps to just call bullshit when you see it.” - Sam Stein, senior politics editor, The Huffington Post
“Viewers and readers want us to be assertive: want us to fact-check; want us to stand up for them. ‘Don’t let guests off the hook’ is what I hear most often.” - Brian Stelter, Host, “Reliable Sources” on CNN
“Creating those ongoing community conversations—by convening focus groups or hosting chats in coffee shops or in town halls—is a task that is, in theory, well suited to community papers with their ears closer to the ground. But above all else, it requires the news outlet to be the aggressor, so to speak, to be the driving force behind these conversations.” - Mark Jurkowitz, owner and publisher of the Outer Banks Sentinel
“Don’t allow a campaign to drive and manipulate news coverage.” - Ann Telnaes, editorial cartoonist, The Washington Post
“It’s a time of recalibration for many newsrooms and journalists around the country, many asking themselves how to listen and engage more with their communities. You don’t have to start those conversations from scratch, though. Take a few of these ingredients to start your own recipes for engagement.” - Josh Stearns and Teresa Gorman, The Local Fix
“Journalism cannot afford to be color-blind and class-neutral.” - Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder/editor, EmergingUS
“The issue of trust in media institutions doesn’t necessarily stem from a lack of faith in the credibility of reporting, but also from a lack of equitable opportunities for public participation in those institutions.” - Tom Trewinnard, Meedan
“In the election of 2016, polls were at once more unreliable than ever before, and more influential. Other nations regulate the publication of pre-election polls, as a matter of civic ethics and good governance. It’s time for the United States to do the same.” - Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper ‘41 Professor of American History and Harvard College Professor at Harvard University; staff writer at The New Yorker.
“Behind Trump comes an online volunteer corps of meme-artists, vloggers, truthers, bored teenagers, angry moms and 4channers. Outside the ideological fold are the digital counterfeiters, the media sensationalists, the teenagers in Macedonia ripping and remixing pro-Trump news stories and conspiracy theories that attract hundreds of thousands of reactions. All are constantly pulling new users into the self-contained and self-strengthening digital ecosystem.” - Omar Robert Hamilton, filmmaker and writer
“Journalists have some work to do in convincing a skeptical public that their goal isn’t to destroy or promote the president. It’s to have enough access to comprehensively cover him on the public’s behalf.” - Michael Calderone, Senior Media Reporter at The Huffington Post.
“We construct a digital identity on Facebook, because that is what the platform is designed to do. All acts center around identity creation and networking. The entire news industry changed its strategy to accommodate this practice.” - David Cohn, Senior Director at Advance Publications innovation group