How journalists should handle the next 100 days of Trump's presidency
This past Saturday marked 100 days since Donald Trump became president, and many news organizations marked the occasion with data-intensive packages that measured his progress and made it really easy for the public to understand what's happened so far. Some highlights:
- The Guardian published an interactive making it really easy to analyze the first 100 days by putting the numbers in context. They also published daily briefings and a series of timelines showing how many executive orders the president has signed, along with how much time he’s spent in Washington and when he met with various world leaders.
- Columbia Journalism Review analyzed how The New York Times’ front page treated Trump’s first 100 days in office and compared those front pages to the first 100 days of the Bush and Obama administrations.
- The Washington Post published an interactive graphic tracking “false and misleading claims made by the president,” summarized the first 100 days by the numbers and published a number of fun ways to think about the news — including a cartoon and a news quiz.
- Financial Times released nine charts that visually show how the president is spending his time.
What I like about all of these approaches is that they’re engaging and make it really, really easy to see — at a glance — what has happened in the past 100 days.
What I don’t like is that most of these projects stopped after the first 100 days — and this kind of data (and the treatment of that data) is valuable beyond that arbitrary timeframe. It would be useful to have interactives like these covering an entire presidency — or several presidencies — because they make it really easy to understand exactly what’s happened and how it compares to previous administrations.
Data collection and verification is often time-consuming, and so is continually updating existing interactives. I understand having a time limit on projects like these, particularly if a lot of analysis is required.
But there’s value in thinking about how reporters can continue to do these time-consuming projects and increase the work’s value in the process. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask your audience for help. One of the most creative projects to come out of the first 100 days was the recent collaboration between ProPublica, The New York Times and The Associated Press looking into White House staffers’ financial disclosure forms. As they combed through documents, they asked the public to fill out a Google Form if they saw anything that merited a closer look. This helped them sift through the data in a timely manner, and also gave them ideas for different ways to look at the disclosures.
- Make your data public. The collaboration between ProPublica, The New York Times and The Associated Press also resulted in placing acquired documents in a public Google Drive folder, so that the public could have a look as well.
If your news organization has spent a lot of time collecting data about the first 100 days of the administration, making that data public (or putting it in a publicly accessible location like a GitHub repository) allows the public to fork and add data, and it also allows news organizations to split up the work.
There’s no reason that every news organization needs to set up their own workflows to collect tweets or monitor golf course visits or any other metric that can be acquired. A good example of this is theTrump Tracker, which was created by a college student at NYU.
- Create a central repository for this kind of information. It becomes a lot easier to split the work between news organizations (and the public) when all of the collected data (or API endpoints) are in one place. (This also holds true for analysis: it was very difficult for me to find all of the 100 day interactives across news organizations — it would be great if they all lived in one place, so that it becomes much easier to see who is doing what and what kind of treatment they’re receiving.
- Make it really, really clear that this work isn’t ending after 100 days. The 100 days milestone has become a marker of how well the presidency is going: lots of different organizations issue report cards and assessments which may not be issued again. Telling your readers that you plan to track the first 100 days as part of a larger assessment to the presidency writ large makes it clear that this work is ongoing and doesn’t stop after 100 days.
- If you do create a special package, tell the readers how long it took and what went into it. Bring your audience along with you. Let them know that it takes a really, really long time to put together an interactive that they enjoy, or talk about how difficult it was to acquire data that you had to FOIA. Revealing more about the process may incentivize people to help out, or simply let them know why it’s important to support your work.