My View: Media must adapt, engage in Trump era
This will not be the cozy, formulaic relationship between the media and the president evident in some past administrations.Trump's entire campaign challenged virtually every working assumption about how candidates should behave and how the media should cover them. Many journalists are critically reflecting on their own performance during the 2016 election and wondering how they should cover the 45th president.
As the press gears up to cover the incoming Trump administration, the president-elect's recent news conference set the tone and vividly illustrated the challenges. In response to CNN's aggressive plea to ask Donald Trump a question, the next president replied tartly: "Your organization's terrible. ... I'm not going to give you a question. You are fake news."
This will not be the cozy, formulaic relationship between the media and the president evident in some past administrations.
Trump's entire campaign challenged virtually every working assumption about how candidates should behave and how the media should cover them. Many journalists are critically reflecting on their own performance during the 2016 election and wondering how they should cover the 45th president.
The questions aren't easy to answer. For example: Candidate Trump made so many questionable statements — and the news stream swirled with so many additional fake news stories — that PolitiFact's readers, in selecting their "Lie of the Year," chose "the entire 2016 election."
Our next president probably will continue to use Twitter to bypass (or hijack) the mainstream media and to promulgate his own version of reality (See: factory jobs; Russian hacking; voter fraud; etc.).
But does that mean that aggressive fact-checking by the media will really set the record straight? Should the press spend its energies fact-checking every 2 a.m. Trump tweet?
I think their efforts could be better spent elsewhere.
The election revealed the gaping chasm between whole swaths of our country and "the news" as presented by mainstream media. Trust in media has been plummeting for a while; election 2016 showed how far apart mainstream news and many groups of voters have grown. Thoughtful journalists are puzzling over how to bridge this gap, how to regain the trust of their communities.
Perhaps the most concerning effect of today's complex, confusing and misleading media landscape is that many citizens no longer believe much of anything they read, hear or see.
I've had conversations with workers, students, professionals and intellectuals these past few months, many of whom admit that they no longer know what media sources to trust. Now add a president who actively sows distrust of well-known media brands — though to be fair, some news outlets have certainly earned our skepticism — and the outlook for civic engagement gets gloomy.
Newsman and scholar Walter Lippmann long ago described the "pictures in our heads" — that shared reality on the basis of which a society can collectively act — as a crucial democratic resource. With so many forces degrading trust in the news, with so many competing and contested "pictures in our heads," how can communities act together to solve their problems?
This is a defining moment for journalism.
Ultimately, journalists will want to think about who their efforts are really for and what their ultimate goals should be. Correcting the significant flows of misinformation that now flood our daily media feeds is a noble but impractical goal. There is no longer a single "public record" all citizens refer to, just as there are no longer authoritative media gatekeepers.
But as media scholar Michael Schudson once observed, even if the thing we call journalism were to disappear tomorrow, it would soon be reinvented in another form, because societies need steady flows of reliable information to thrive.
In that spirit of reinvention, journalists can strive to do three extremely important things:
n Get their own facts straight (even if they can't effectively correct everyone else's).
n Gather news in more transparent and collaborative ways. The short-sighted competitive chase after ratings and "clicks" ultimately undermines the kinds of news gathering that can build communities and nurture democracy.
n Listen closely to communities — and not just the most loyal audiences. As veteran journalist and researcher Tom Rosenstiel recently put it, the question of how the press should cover Trump "should probably be turned around to "what do citizens need now from the press?"
What citizens need now is knowledgeable voices speaking truth to power — and speaking to empower the public — humbly but firmly, grounded in a closer relationship with the communities they serve.
Regina G. Lawrence is executive director of Portland Programs and the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism & Communication. Much of her focus is on the role of media in civic engagement. Learn more at >journalism.uoregon.edu/agora/.