Faculty of journalism department discusses failures of journalism during Trump era

By Abigail Charpentier

Jong Man Kim/Collegian

Faculty of the University of Massachusetts journalism department gathered to speak about the failure of journalists during the 2016 presidential election and the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency in the Integrative Learning Center Wednesday night.

The panel was comprised of assistant professor Shaheen Pasha, department head Kathy Roberts Forde, and professors Razvan Sibii and Rodrigo Zamith and was moderated by faculty member Brian McDermott.

McDermott started the discussion by sharing the personal experience of where he was when FBI Director James Comey sent a letter alerting Congress that the bureau knew of additional emails that could revive the investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information. He transitioned this experience into how the media is crucial in this day in age.

“I, and we, need journalism to stand up for our free society right now,” McDermott said.

Pasha spoke on a lack of diversity in newsrooms.

“If you do not have diversity where the leadership is, you cannot have that understanding of the issues that are affecting people of various communities, and that’s reflected in the reporting as well,” she said.

Forde discussed the relationship between the people and the press as well as the history of the press. Forde explained that the media circulated fake news over social media and journalists did not do a good job combatting this fake news as well as racist and xenophobic rhetoric. She went on to praise those that worked hard to work beyond these failures.

Forde explained the history of the press and how, “journalism has always been an integral part of American politics, since the founding of the country. It has also played a significant role in social and political change.” She highlighted examples such as the Hiroshima bombing, the McCarthy witch-hunt, the environmental movement and the Watergate scandal to prove the essential role journalists have in society.

Sibii, undergraduate program direction and chief undergraduate advisor, spoke about how Trump and his team have “used and abused” journalists and ways to address this issue. He told the audience five challenges that journalists may face with the new administration, which include Trump taking unprecedented advantage of the definition of newsworthiness, the “fire hose” technique [deciding what stories to cover], his deeply aggressive attitude toward journalists, the de-legitimizing of journalists and his lies.

“There used to be a time, especially with Obama since he was so calculated, everything he did end up saying was usually going to get coverage,” Sibii said. “[Trump] talks all the time. So you do have to stop going strictly by prominence. Just because the president says it, doesn’t make it newsworthy anymore.”

Zamith discussed data journalism and specifically the election models which indicated that Clinton had a high probability of winning the election based on the available data, therefore, most people assumed Clinton would win the election. Zamith claimed data journalism should not be used to predict the future.

“Journalists should let go of the idea that serious journalism needs to look a certain way,” Zamith said. “The misunderstanding of those forecasts coupled with the myth that data are more objective and closer to the truth led many to see evidence for a Trump victory, as outliers.”

After each panelist gave their presentations, they had a question and answer session with the audience.

Susan Kaplan, a senior reporter for New England Public Radio, said, “If you are truly interested in what Trump supporters are thinking, you might want to spend some time really trying to listen to what they say to you and take it a little bit beyond the normal defensiveness that tends to happen in these conversations.”

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at [email protected]