February 3, 2017

President Trump’s administration is unconventional by any reporter’s standards, said Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of The Atlantic. But that doesn’t mean journalists should abandon basic skills and principles they’ve held onto for years.

“It’s true, we are in a little bit of a knife fight with people who don’t want to have a fact-based discourse,” Goldberg said. “But you just have to stand for what you’ve always stood for, and you’ve got to do the work that you’ve always done.”

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In an interview for Covering 45, Poynter’s podcast devoted to examining coverage of President Trump, Goldberg explained how The Atlantic is approaching the Trump Administration, scrutinizing his policies with a sense of fairness and his decision to quickly publish David Frum’s new longread showing how the United States could become an autocracy.

On covering Trump fairly

“Obviously, one thing that we have to do is understand the parts of America we seem not to have understood very well, and that’s another mission. There’s a lot to do. But it’s not entirely novel. You want to pursue the truth. You want to be fair. You especially want to make sure that you have your facts correct, because this is a merciless environment. …And you have to constantly interrogate yourself and disrupt your own thinking about the way the world is organized and try to understand why so many people voted for Donald Trump, why the country is fracturing the way it’s fracturing. But you can’t stray too far from the notion that the job is to write about what’s happening in the fairest way possible.”

On deciding to publish “How to Build an Autocracy” early

“In terms of the publication: We’re always in this strange position at The Atlantic, because we run at all speeds at once. We have a magazine with a long production lead time — it comes out 10 times a year. It’s where we do our biggest thinking, or however you want to frame it. And we like to hold the pieces as late as possible so the subscribers get them at home first. But…I shot an email to people Sunday afternoon while the immigration battle was going on and said…’I don’t know, it seems like this story would fill a need for people right now.'”

On how The Atlantic is responding to the Trump administration

“News and analytic organizations like The Atlantic are made for periods of high intensity in current affairs. So if dramatic things are happening, that’s what we’re supposed to be here for. To tell those stories and interpret them for our readers. For The Atlantic — we were founded in 1857 for two things: One, abolish slavery and two, to maintain the unity of the United States. …It is true, I have to say, that Abraham Lincoln was quoted once saying that a favorable article in The Atlantic could save him seven or eight battles. And I always hold that out to my staff as an example. You want to be influential? Here’s a good model.”

You can listen to the whole podcast here.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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