April 24, 2017

The presidency of Donald Trump is the most important story in the world, said Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief John Avlon. But it’s not the only story.

That’s why, for the last few weeks, The Daily Beast has decided not to publish Trump-related news on Sunday mornings, opting instead to run longer, in-depth stories that give its readers a look at the wider world.

“There’s no shame — in fact, it would be a dereliction of duty — not to be covering the biggest story of our times in all its manifestations,” Avlon said. “But there’s an added responsibility to separate out the urgent from the important and to make sure that you’re not losing sight of the important while you try to chronicle the urgent.”

Avlon’s remarks were made during an interview for Covering 45, Poynter’s weekly podcast examining coverage of the Trump administration, which is now nearing the 100-day milestone. During the interview, Avlon discussed The Daily Beast’s election-night declaration that it would “stand up to President Donald Trump,” its decision to ignore commodity news and the industry-wide Trump bump.

On The Daily Beast’s approach to covering the Trump administration

“Our commitment is to be nonpartisan but not neutral. And what means to me is to not be part of the predictable partisan cheerleading squad online. I think that’s as much a long-term loser as being part of a commodity news crowd or a content farm approach to being a news site.

…We’re going to hit both sides where appropriate. We’re not going to toe any partisan line. We’re going to have a range of columnists, from liberal to libertarian. But we’re also not going to pretend there’s a mythic moral equivalence between candidates or on any given issue. For me, the key quote for our times is actually an older quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

The Daily Beast’s Trump bump

“Especially in the immediate wake of the inauguration, there’s an intensity in our readership that was evident. Anecdotally, we got a lot of emails and even letters — one of which I have on my desk — our audience saying things like, ‘I used to read The Beast and now I need the Beast.’ They really appreciate what we’re doing, which is not shimmying and doing real reporting.

I think that intensity absolutely was manifest. Sometimes it’s called the Trump bump. But I think it’s about something deeper, which is a desire, a need, to help make sense of our times with a sense of perspective.”

On criticism of false equivalence on the part of CNN, his other employer

CNN really almost stands alone in terms of its global network. And if you take one of the things I said earlier — how do you make the important stories interesting? How do you entertain while you educate? There’s no shame in that. And CNN has an added burden when it’s offering panels…how do you make sure that the president’s point of view or the nominee’s point of view, is being represented?

You need to make sure that that point of view is being reflected, because the man is President of the United States and he was the Republican president’s nominee. And if 95 percent of your existing contributors disagree with that nominee, there’s a disconnect you’ve got to address to even represent the real debate that’s going on in this country.

On The Daily Beast’s decision to schedule Trump-free Sunday mornings

“What we’re trying to do with a Trump-free Sunday morning is hang a lantern on something we’ve been doing for a long time now. We’ve been trying to have our weekend cadence be a little bit different than our weekday reads. We’ve been trying to build the site more around recurring weekend features and longreads under the idea that it’s a time where people have a little bit more time and that we want to be putting forward deeply written features on core areas that we return to.

We know that there’s going to be a lot of news breaking on late Friday nights and sometimes early Saturday mornings, and we’re going to make room for that. But if there’s major breaking news, we’re not going to pretend it doesn’t exist. That’s not consistent with the metabolism of the beast.

Look, Donald Trump’s presidency is the story of our times right now. It is a manifestation of the larger dynamics we’re dealing with around the Western World, which is a broader backlash to globalization that has manifested itself in the rise of a liberal democracy or soft authoritarianism, backlashes against immigration, fear of islamist terrorism.

All these stories are entwined. That is the big, urgent story of our time right now, how all of those things come together…of course, that’s the biggest story in the world. It is not the only story in the world.

Every day in a newsroom as in, ultimately in people’s lives, it’s about a struggle between the urgent and the important. And in the news business, necessarily, we have to cover the urgent. That means, sometimes, we are reactive. But at The Daily Beast, we are the alternative to content farms and commodity news as well as the partisan cheerleaders that you see too often cheerleading on the web.”

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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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