Journalism Students in the Trump Era

The field of journalism has been experiencing an upheaval these past two decades. From the growing popularity of new technologies to the loss of faith that the public has in the field has created some unique challenges that journalists have to face.
In this “post truth” era, journalism students are being faced with the daunting task of finding ways to continue to hold the government accountable even with a new administration that is openly hostile to the media.
Mina Haq, a junior multi-platform journalism student, says that she feels that the biggest issue that the political climate has brought is an administration that does not want to work with the press.
“We’ve never had an administration that views the media as ‘the opposition party.’ That’s what they’re calling it, Haq said. “And it makes you question everything that you’ve learned about objectivity. Everything that you’ve learned about the free press. And I think that it brings with it a learning curve for even reporters who have been in this field for a long time.”
Mitchell Tropin, a journalism professor at this university feels that journalists have gotten sloppy with fact checking the news that they send out and keep making mistakes. Even though the false information that reporters have given is unintentional, President Trump will not let those mistakes go, so it is becoming more important to double and triple check information to make sure that it is accurate.
“We are in an environment now where you cannot make any mistakes or the price is very high,” Tropin said.
Tropin mentioned an incident where Time Magazine reporter Zeke Miller falsely stated that the Trump administration had removed a bust of Martin Luther King. Later, Trump and the White House criticized the mistake as an example of “deliberately false reporting.” Trump continued to talk about it during an event meant to commemorate Black History Month.
Tropin feels that new journalists can avoid avoid being called out by Trump for mistakes by going back to their roots and being more diligent in their fact checking.
“All [Miller] had to do was walk over to one of Trump’s aides and say ‘did you move the bust of King? Is it still here?’ That’s all he had to do. Just a little common sense and a little extra bit of caution.”
Another journalism teacher at this university, Alison Burns, says that a lot of her students want to cover entertainment news and fashion. She hopes that the concern about social issues will inspire her students to cover more hard news.
“One of my hopes is that concerns about ‘alternative facts’ in the Trump administration will be a motivator for young journalists to want to hold power accountable that there will be a revitalization of appreciation for the watchdog role of journalists among young people,” Burns said.
According to Haq, one of the ways that the media can face the new challenges that the current administration has brought to them is by coming together.
“There’s always going to be competition in [the media], but we do have to remember that we all have a similar goal. If we’re going to be constantly challenged by this administration, a sense of solidarity and a sense of camaraderie will be important going forward.”
Michael Errigo, a multi-platform journalism student, feels that the time and access to experienced journalists that being a student gives him will help him better prepare to be a journalist in during Trump’s presidency.
“I have some time to kind of see what happens here in his first 100 days and prepare for it in a way, Errigo said. “If I’m going to enter the workforce next year, I’m a senior this year, I can take my time in school to kind of watch and hopefully learn and talk to all of the great teachers here at Merrill and stuff like that.”
However, Errigo does not see himself covering politics very often, preferring feature stories and writing about culture. However, he does say that telling the stories of individuals could help bring him close to talking about the Trump administration.
“The closest I could see myself getting to writing about politics is writing about people who are affected by the politics and affected by the Trump administration, whether that’s in DC or in the middle of nowhere,” Errigo said. “If I could write feature stories that kind of touch on what’s going on in our country, then that would be something that I would be interested in.”
Although Haq acknowledges that the task of holding the new administration accountable will be difficult it doesn’t sway her from her goals as a reporter. If anything, she feels that it has made her more excited to go into political journalism to help work to make it a more effective tool to keep the government in check.
“Mostly [political reporting] has been access journalism and that has never a really been effective form of reporting. Getting a press secretary to give you information, you sort of being a stenographer for it hasn’t ever been what the field is about,” Haq said. “We’re going to have to go back to digging for in-formation and questioning everything we’re told and that’s what this has reinforced for me.”
Burns also had positive things to say about the ability of young journalists to help keep the public in-formed about their government.
“It’s not easy, for sure when you are a young journalist. But think about it: Woodward and Bernstein were pretty young reporters at the Washington Post when they pursued the story about Richard Nixon,” Burns said.

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