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Sunday, January 30, 2022

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Journalism during the Trump administration

Over the decades, Journalism coverage has passed through several changes. We can include in that bucket of challenges, the transformation and evolution of media, and social episodes that happened, such as wars, elections, Nazism, racism, democracy, pandemics, and so on. The last challenge we have faced was the Donald Trump administration. Not that it had been as devastating and killer as the examples above, but because, in a certain way, it contained all of those problems involved at the same time. 

Donald Trump | Credit: Pixabay

In a situation like that, journalists and reporters needed to find a way to manage the crisis and inform people despite all objections. The most important premise that was supposed to be kept in mind was, as CNN said in its promo video, the focus on “facts first”. But did we get out of that track? 


The first problem I found was how some news organizations were euphemistic and reticent in calling all Trump’s untruths “lies”, even though fact-checkers had shown that thousands of his claims were falsehoods. If the focus of journalists is true stories, their role must include checking the “alternative facts” and exposing them the way they are. Or, which is even worse, to use impersonal language like talking about the failures of “Congress” when what is meant is “the Republican Party”’, as quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) article. 

How to choose what will be news?
Another point that caught my attention is the power we have, while journalists and editors, to choose the news that is going to be covered and how they will be covered, and more important: our ability to concentrate on relevant matters. It can be easily exemplified with the rape and sexual assaulting accusations that did not receive the coverage they deserved, because some other scandals appeared in the same week. This also connects to episodes when Trump or his supporters would release new pieces of information to make a buzz and distract the media from another unwanted subject, which reinforces that we have to be aware of these disinformation strategies and know how to respond to them. 


Something that has contributed to this age of misleading information is social media. Donald Trump recognized its potential and used it constantly to share wrong data and fake news that many people believed was real. And that brings us to another challenge: How to combat them when the content is promoted in such a powerful media that reaches millions of people in a few seconds? 


The answer is revealing the truth, even if it won’t receive the same amount of likes or shares, and even between an audience who was primed to view journalism as dissent 

An example of an improvement came from Wisconsin

Among many problems, however, I see improvements. From the beginning of the president's mandate to the end, many news sources fought against misleading information. One specific case I recognized as very interesting, was during the elections and all the falsehoods about fraud in the ballots. In the middle of so much pressure, the politics reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Patrick Marley, opted to hold on covering the story until the state elections commission officially announced that no Wisconsin ballots were among the discarded mail 


It highlighted to me how important is to wait to gather the right information, instead of just publishing it without checking and making sure that it was true, and confronting it with the fake news. In this particular story, the reporter put Trump’s claims in context, showing them against the backdrop of Trump’s previous assaults on mail-in voting and connecting mail issues to funding cuts and related slowdowns at the United States Postal Service. 


I agree with the CJR reporters Jon Allsop and Pete Vernon when they say that the systemic problems faced during Trump’s administration were here before and will last long. The solution for these journalism failures will take a while to happen. 


Allsop, Jon; Vernon, Pete 2020, How the press covered the last four years of Trump, Columbia Journalism Review, accessed 28 January 2022, <https://www.cjr.org/special_report/coverage-trump-presidency-2020-election.php>.

Karbal, Ian W. 2020, How careful local reporting undermined Trump’s claims of voter fraud, Columbia Journalism Review, accessed 28 January 2022, <https://www.cjr.org/covering_the_election/voter-fraud-local-journalism.php>.

*This article was submitted as a memo assignment for the course "Current Issues of Journalism" at the University of Illinois.

About Manu Ferreira

Hi, my name is Manu Ferreira. I am multimedia producer. I hold a bachelor's degree in Social Communication - Radio, TV, and Internet, and a Master's degree in Journalism. Here, I want to share my ideas and some of the work I've done in my career.


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