As the reign of President-elect Donald Trump looms, these are anxious times for free media. There exists a fear of censorship and a fear of one’s self—as well as America—getting caught up or bulldozed by fake news. One driving fear among journalists is that our very own peers will lay at the feet of a President who, before even being inaugurated, has shared fake news, harassed media outlets, and used Twitter to tweet false claims and soon “boldly” make major policy announcements.
How do we as journalists, not only survive, but thrive during Trump’s presidency?
We must continue to report the truth, and fight to do so if need be. And even if our own President doesn’t, we must always maintain our respect for the First Amendment, as it is our last line of defense. We must adhere firmly to provable facts, and not enable those whose concern lies in not offending the higher ups—which is how racism and sexism help get normalized. We can’t bend to fear.
Free media, and what that will look like during Trump’s presidency, is a conversation that must carry on consistently throughout the next four years, and not simply be touched upon whenever the newest grievance temporarily takes over the internet. (I can’t take eight years, I’m telling you that right now)
Below, five writers—John Paul Brammer, Brandon Caldwell, Jozen Cummings, Clover Hope, and Steven J. Horowitz—share their thoughts, fears, and concerns on the future of journalism in Trump’s soon to be America.
John Paul Brammer (@jpbrammer), Freelance Writer
Journalists have every reason to fear Trump’s presidency, as he has routinely made us easy scapegoats for his supporters. The Troll-in-Chief has a vested interest in delegitimizing the press, because the press has something that he’s desperately afraid of: the truth. That being said, as much as I fear Trump, I also fear journalists and members of the press who have forgotten that this is why we exist.
We are the truth-tellers. In good times and bad, regardless of whether people want to hear it or not, we have been tasked with protecting and fighting for the truth. There are journalists, there are writers, there are media that are not rising to that challenge, preferring instead to sidle up to a reinvigorated tide of white supremacy and caving to the terms of those who support this insidious ideology. My great fear is that these people will aid and abet Trump and his supporters at the expense of their colleagues in the fourth estate as well as our democracy. My great hope is that we have some incredibly brave, talented people fighting for what’s right.
Brandon Caldwell (@_brandoc), Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Day & A Dream, Freelance Writer
The more we watched our various social media feeds turn into battlegrounds of opinions, ideals, and, at times, idiocy, the more it became obviously clear that manipulation could fool anyone. A Trump presidency is all about manipulation: of the rules, of common sense, and potential decency. Half of the country openly fears that we’ll be at odds with our enemies thanks to a tweet rather than a speech. The media itself, regardless of how “free” it is, will be as important as ever. And it should be.
Although we watched the media fall on its face during the election, free media in a Trump world may be the last piece of education we have. People have glued into talking heads and so-called pundits and have determined that their news is whatever fits their lifestyle. There is no offering of a different opinion to some. The fact that the Washington Post had to create a Chrome Extension just to fact check the President-elect’s tweets should tell you one thing: free media won’t wilt under Trump. His mere presence will dare more people to focus on the issues and the happenings in Washington. Knowing him, he’ll claim credit for the “renewed interest” in media, because the spin always wins with him. The media cannot allow itself to be duped for four years of this.
Jozen Cummings (@jozenc), Freelance Writer
Anyone who has been paying attention since Donald Trump’s surprising victory in November has seen what kind of effect his presence in the White House is going to have on the news media. Simply follow him on Twitter and see the news cycle unfold from every thought he shares in 140 characters or less. It’s done with good reason: no President-elect has tweeted more than he has and no President-elect has given fewer press conferences than him.
If this keeps up into Trump’s presidency, the news media will have to make a crucial decision between reporting what they see and reporting what they know. Hopefully they understand there is a way to do both. Trump is an important person to cover simply by virtue of his position, and therefore coverage of him, as a subject, can no longer be written off as something being done for pageviews. But covering him is not the same as covering his moves, which he so clearly does not want to do with any transparency, and this is why the media will have to be more diligent than ever before. Hopefully reporters and editors will go into 2017 with the understanding that even if Trump doesn’t need them, the American people do.
Clover Hope (@clovito), Senior Writer at Jezebel, Freelance Writer
Donald Trump’s relationship with the press, or lack thereof, has been broken since he started campaigning for President. His mission is to subjugate the media. What I expect once he enters office is even more intense and authoritarian acts of manipulation on his end. Trump is used to operating like a reality TV executive, creating and serving storylines into a machine, and it’s likely that he’ll continue that habit. What concerns me is that the level of transparency Obama established throughout his eight years-via social media, the White House press corp, press conferences and interviews with news outlets-will for sure be vastly diminished under Trump’s administration, especially given that he lacks the vocabulary to explain complex situations to the public.
Instead, Trump is content to use social media as a direct vessel for his thoughts, even though his tweets about foreign policy have already set a dangerous precedent. At the same time, connected mainstream media sources have so far done a poor job at demanding the access and transparency we need to maintain a legitimate democracy. When Trump invited a group of reporters to Mar-A-Lago in December, it was kept off the record, save for a group photo the reporters took with Trump. As long as journalists bend to his wills for the sake of coverage or access, his desire for narrative control will be fed. We know that news in the age of Trump is the largest challenge modern media has faced, so the aim should be for accuracy, to demand transparency or create it if it isn’t given.
Steven J. Horowitz (@speriod), Freelance Writer
One of Trump’s greatest enemies during his campaign, just a hair below Hillary Clinton and one just above self-contradiction, was his respect for the First Amendment. Many don’t know or understand the liberties it affords. It isn’t just free speech: it encapsulates freedom of religion, the right to assemble and, most importantly to many of us in this roundtable, freedom of the press.
Not only did he attack the first two during and after his campaign-Islam as the anti, protest of his win as unfair-but he mainly focused on the press in the year leading up to his victory. And he couldn’t be more wrong. His smearing of the media as inherently biased, and therefore lying, has been one of his greatest cons of the American people, convincing his blind followers that journalistic standards didn’t exist, that somehow being ethical really translated to being puppets of the liberal businessmen who owned the publications for which they worked.
As a journalist who has been working in media for over a decade, this is perhaps one of his most endangering offenses, just like the majority of Trump’s campaign promises, many of which he has and will turn on. A Trump presidency doesn’t necessarily equate to government interference in media; in fact, to go against the Constitution would be a feat that would take longer than what we can only hope is his four years in the Oval Office. But what threatens the veracity and legitimacy of the media in practice is how overwhelmingly and blindly his devotees agree with him.
The same impoverished lower-class citizens who thought Trump cared for them and voted for him are going to suffer even further once he gets into office and their government-funded healthcare is stripped of them. The racists who were duped into thinking that illegal immigrants in America would undermine some classic American ideal (“Make America Great Again”-when was it great before, exactly?) probably won’t get their wall. And the craziest thing is, they will defend him, even when they’re slapped in the face with the truth.
And those truth-tellers-the media-are the ones Trump is rallying against. It’s terrifying to think how simply dismissing journalists as liars, even when the facts are plain, catches on, and how easy it is to put your faith in a leader who manipulates public fear in a time when fear often overpowers rational thought. What concerns me most about a Trump presidency is how skewed fact has become, simply because someone so irresponsibly used his platform to tell the world that those facts are false. That is media’s greatest threat-that someone who was once part of the media, as the host of a mediocre reality television show, knows how powerful it can be, and can cut it down having seen its weaknesses from the inside. Members of the media shouldn’t be threatened by any silencing of their voice from a higher power; they should fear the audience to which they cater.