Even before Donald Trump’s presidency, the term “fake news” made its way onto his Twitter account. On December 10, 2016, Trump tweeted: “Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are ridiculous & untrue—FAKE NEWS!”
Although the term ‘”fake news” can be linked to journalist Craig Silverman’s exploration of the media in the 2016 US election, referring to “completely false information that was created and spread for profit,” Trump quickly took it as his own. In his very first press conference as POTUS, Trump addressed CNN’s Jim Acosta, saying, “You are fake news.” As of this article’s posting, Trump has had 337 tweets about Fake News in just 683 days of presidency. This is the most used key term on his page, the second being Fox News or Sean Hannity with 305.
Trump’s negative regard for journalism has not been kept a secret. Between his chastisements of the media, Twitter rants, and dismissal of scientifically conducted studies, some may wonder what it really means to be a reporter in the age of Donald Trump. Recently, a panel of reporters came together to address this question during the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).
Francie Diep, a staff writer at Pacific Standard, has noticed a decrease in enthusiasm and interest in both the public and administration. “A lot of science journalism is about the delight and wonder of discovery and it does feel like there’s less appetite with the new administration,” she shared. Trailing off, she hoped aloud that people come back to science, “…that people now want to learn about science as a positive thing again.”
Elizabeth Shogren, a reporter at Reveal, echoed Diep’s thoughts, using personal experience to demonstrate the administration’s declining interest. “I saw the focus of my journalism [go] from finding out what cool things were going on to advance society, the environment, science in the west and how government was making that happen or standing in the way of that happening… and then, I have to say, this is in part due to the exact job I have right now, but now all of my stories are negative. There’s just not a positive story to do…
“I find myself talking about my work much less at parties,” Shogren finished.
The three speakers addressed what it is like to report on science, science policy, and today’s important, yet rapidly changing, issues. Questions ranged from “How do you maintain an evidence-based approach to reporting when everyone seems to be interested in the latest political hubbub?” to “Where do you draw the line between reporting and advocating?”
Nsikan Akpan of PBS NewsHour agrees with his fellow panelists that there have been adjustments. “Finding new ways to cover Tweets… because that’s not necessarily something we would have done in the past, but because so much policy is being released through Twitter, it’s sort of a thing we have to do now,” he said with a laugh. Still, he believes “there is still a hunger and thirst for science news.”
“I think to some degree that huge volume of news [from Washington] can push stories to the side, and I think science sometimes is a victim of that… but we found that our science content performs just as well as our other news.”
Moderated by Marie Hardin, president-elect of AEJMC, the session ended with a Q&A. Many audience members took to the mic, a few of whom were interested in the difficulties of investigating and writing the truth when editors or sponsors felt otherwise.
“Our job is not to be the peacemaker for society,” Shogren responded. “We can’t do that. I think our leading mission has to be truth. Our job is not to make things comfortable for people.”
This event was sponsored by SAGE Publishing, Social Science Space’s parent. Watch the full event below or by right-clicking here.