| 03.18.2018

The press and the president — Media critic will speak about how the press should cover Trump


No real news comes from the White House press briefings, so news organizations should send interns there and have their veteran reporters do investigative work.

Media critic Jay Rosen will speak on this topic at 7 p.m. Thursday in the University of Idaho College of Law courtroom.

Journalism and Mass Media professor Steve Smith said he’s known Rosen for 30 years and his favorite thing about him is that he’s a provocateur.

“He’s a critical thinking person who steps outside the box and demands that you think critically about whatever he’s talking about,” Smith said. “He challenges tradition.”

Rosen is a writer and press critic who’s been a journalism faculty member at New York University since 1986, and spent six years as chair of the department. He’s served in advisory positions for major newspaper companies and writes for his own website, which focuses on issues surrounding the media. From 1993-1997 Rosen was the director of the Project on Public Life and the Press and in 1999 he wrote a book titled “What are Journalists For?” about the rise of civic journalism.

“It was a series of ideas that newspapers in particular had a role to engage with their community. To frame their journalism around community interests and not just the interests of journalism,” Smith said. “The ideas of civic journalism were controversial at the time, but have since been completely internalized and now we talk about it as engagement.”

Last fall, Rosen was planning engagements in the West and Smith said UI was able to book him for a speech. Smith said Rosen regularly writes about the media’s coverage of President Donald Trump and press briefings have been his most recent subject.

“It’s just more relevant than when we scheduled him last fall. The timing is perfect,” Smith said. “I think he’s going to help fill this bottomless interest in what’s going on in Washington. He will provoke, he will challenge and I think it will be a really interesting challenge.”

That challenge comes to the industry while journalism is in a crisis, said Kenton Bird, director of General Education. Bird was the director of the school of Journalism and Mass Media (JAMM) from 2003-2015 and said the industry was strapped for resources and unprepared to cover a candidate who defied convention.

Bird said Rosen will ask questions that should be asked in journalism schools all over the U.S.
“How do you cover someone like this? How do you respond to the conflicting pieces of information? How do you give your audience the facts they need in order to make intelligent political decisions and participate in the national discourse?” Bird said.

One of the biggest challenges for the media, Bird said, is how to tell their audience that the president is not speaking the truth.

“But also to do it in a way that doesn’t take sides in the political arena. That the importance of journalistic neutrality or of balance or fairness is still important, but it’s being cast in different ways,” Bird said.

Smith said Rosen believes journalism serves a public good and that its practitioners too often failed to live up the responsibility.

“His thesis during the election cycle was that the press, the industry, had failed to understand the dynamics of the campaign. Had failed to understand that Donald Trump changed the rules. That we were continuing to play by old rules and as a result, largely irrelevant,” Smith said.

One of the biggest new rules was that Trump could sidestep the media entirely.

“The president’s messages go to his millions of Twitter followers without someone in between who is selecting or editing or curating or providing a needed fact check on what’s coming out,” Bird said.

Rosen keeps on current issues, and Smith said he expects him to talk about recent developments between Trump and media organizations. Smith said Rosen will talk about taking experienced reporters out of the briefing room.

“Put them out in the field doing the real work, which is going to involve talking to folks in departments and in the Trump administration who are going to want to leak like sieves,” Smith said. “His point is that’s where the news is going to be and that’s where your reporters need to be. Let this theatre go on without us.”

Bird encouraged people who want to see the speech in person to get there early, and said he expects half of the 225 seats to be filled by JAMM students.

“I hope by end of the talk we may not have all the answers, but we’ll know better questions to ask about how the media are covering politics at the national level,” Bird said.

Jack Olson can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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