Columbia Journalism Review Editor: Time to Rethink How We Cover Trump

Despite passionate efforts to bring down their nemesis the President, the left-dominated mainstream news media have failed. They're banging their heads against a wall on a daily basis, and all the while Donald Trump taunts them with tweets and winning. It's time to rethink the media's entire approach, says a prominent journalism figure.

Kyle Pope, Editor in Chief and Publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, says it's time that the media "rethink how we cover Trump":

It’s been just over a year since Donald Trump’s inauguration, almost certainly one of the most momentous chapters in the history of the American presidency and the press. For all the reasons all of us know, the past year has been thrilling and exhausting and demoralizing, sometimes in a single day. But [Trump's] bogus ["Fake News"] awards, and the willingness of news organizations to give Trump oxygen for them, have also clarified why the past year has also been a disappointment, for those of us who expected a new attitude, a new approach, by the US press. 

At the time of Trump’s inauguration, Pope had urged his fellow journalists

to not let Trump, and his acolytes, control the conversation. That was going to be our job. We were going to decide what mattered, how our audience spent their time. In the months since, Trump has done his thing, taunting and lying and promising lawsuits and legislation and more threats. We, unfortunately, have failed to hold up our end of the bargain.

I remain astonished by the ability of this former reality TV star to be our assignment editor. He has a preternatural ability to intuit the bumps and swerves of the news cycle, enabling him to refocus attention on himself just as it is in danger of moving on... Pretend you don’t watch and call him the dumbest man on TV.

In response, Pope writes,

We continue to spend our days, and our audience’s time, reacting to the president’s bumbling with a level of disbelief and outrage that has boiled over into a stinking froth... What’s amazing is that we continue to cover all of it, again and again. Often, the strategy seems to be to simply give Trump the forum in hopes, in hopes that he’ll pay us back by saying something outrageous enough to win us clicks or viewers. If the mission a year ago was to keep Trump from leading us around by the nose, I’m afraid we have failed." [Emphasis added]

And despite their best efforts, the news media have failed to have an impact on the President's supporters. If anything, "they’ve doubled down on their support of the president, almost because of the journalistic attacks." Almost? It largely is because of the attacks.

"[T]he sad fact," Pope concludes, "one year into this presidency, is that the current approach to covering this White House is no longer working. We are reading the same memes again and again, and the president, a savant at intuiting public sentiment, is doing everything he can to keep the treadmill moving."

What should the media do? Pope says that what is required is "a new journalistic enterprise, more creativity in terms of what form that journalism would take, a rethinking of how we tell our stories."

What does that mean, exactly? Pope doesn't know, or at least doesn't specify. He even spent an afternoon last week "with a couple of dozen people, mainly artists, who gather regularly for an informal salon. They, too, are struggling with how to respond to Trump; most have not yet figured it out."

Nonetheless, Pope is optimistic that

[w]e, as a profession, are capable of figuring this out. The answer clearly is not in spending our time responding to Trump, or emoting en masse in response to whatever he has spout off. Nor is the answer in the more traditional, he said, she said” approach to political journalism. I think the answer likely lays in the seams between more conventional approaches to reporting: I want to see more first-person pieces by reporters on the trail, some oral histories, some theoretical what-ifs. Let’s not leave the most truthful storytelling to fiction writers or dodgy book writers. This is an extraordinary moment, and it requires a new, proactive urgency to tell the story of this presidency as we see it, rather than fall into the swirl of familiar tropes and outrages. 

So the message of this article from the editor and publisher of perhaps the most prestigious journalistic publication is:

  • what the news media is doing is not working;
  • we need a new, more creative, urgent approach;
  • no one on the left knows what that new approach should be.

The takeaway from this article is that the anti-Trump, activist news media are floundering and they know it, but they don't know what to do about it. President Trump wins again.