Another turning point for journalism
President Trump calls the media “the enemy of the American people,” and now the young journalists I know are ready to go to war.
They're not out to fight their fellow citizens, of course. Instead, they feel emboldened to hold power accountable — Trump, other elected officials, corporations, business executives — and want to tell honest stories about Washington affecting and ignoring people. I asked my students about how Trump's animosity influences their career goals. They had ready answers:
• “It's pushing me to make sure my stories are as credible and accurate as they can be. There's no room for fake news.”
• “I won't read editorials and opinion any more. I just read hard news.”
• “Now with everything going on, I feel like I need to be in the loop.”
• “It's just really important to get the facts because who knows what are the facts and the alternate facts?”
Young journalists are energized, not intimidated. At a time when anyone with a computer or smartphone can reach the world, students who take that responsibility seriously study the craft's historic tenets — objectivity, fairness, accuracy — as they learn to use the shiny new tools.
Watergate stands out as “one of the great turning points in American journalism,” media analyst Ellen Hume wrote two decades ago. Students already had started surging into journalism schools over civil rights, the Vietnam War and unrest caused by the assassinations of President Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and others. President Nixon's downfall — spurred by the reporting of The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and muckrakers such as Jack Anderson — crystallized that feeling of purpose. Reporters asking honest questions and relentlessly pursuing truth became heroes to a generation (more, really) eager to restore truth and justice to democracy.
We stand at another great turning point in American journalism. It couldn't have come at a better time, just as industry insiders worried if a future existed at all. Reporters feel rejuvenated — eager for substantive, impactful stories , not meaningless scoops. When Trump lies, newspapers point it out . When he's a hypocrite, TV news outlets play back his words as proof .
Young people feel this energy. Like the Watergate era, interest started with social issues — the tea party movement, Occupy Wall Street , # blacklivesmatter . The greatest difference could be that they believe journalism again can make a difference.
“We are watching things change,” Robert Snyder, a Rutgers University media professor, told me. “There's a huge interest in what's going on. … They're much more interested in the news.”
That interest has students taking a closer look at government reporting and hard news. Many already use technology to share stories. Some hone their reporting and storytelling at journalism schools. Even those who focus on sports and entertainment know Trump-era politics will cross into their work — at the Grammy Awards and surely at the Oscars.
As one of my students put it: “I want nothing to do with politics — but it's important to be aware.”
Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.