Media must stand together in Trump’s anti-media era

By Dawn McMullan


Dallas, Texas, USA


I’ve been a journalist since my first day in college. Something I love about INMA is that we as an international organisation believe deeply in the future of journalism, realising it is the key to developing audiences and revenue. This passion and understanding is why what’s happening with and to U.S. media right now is keeping me up at night.

The fear and fortitude of the news media here is palpable. It started as disconcerting yet almost playful as Donald Trump conducted his campaign, has grown increasingly worrisome since Election Day, and reached fever pitch last week when Trump attacked a mainstream media reporter during his first press conference as president-elect over classified information in dispute regarding Trump’s relationship with Russia.

“Your organisation is terrible.”

“No, I’m not going to give you a question.”

“You are fake news.”

The reporter, CNN’s Jim Acosta, was then threatened at the press conference by Press Secretary Sean Spicer that if he repeated that behaviour, he would be kicked out. 

The post-press conference Twitter fight between CNN reporter Jim Acosta and Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
The post-press conference Twitter fight between CNN reporter Jim Acosta and Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

This is not normal.

The response seems to have started what I’ve long advocated: that companies within the media industry needs to stick together — whether we’re talking about Facebook, adblocking, or fake news and Donald Trump.

Pete Vernon, Columbia Journalism Review Delacorte Fellow, had this to say that same day:

“Journalism is a competitive business, but it’s not a zero-sum game,” he wrote in this article on “We all campaign for scoops, access, and sources, but we are, effectively, on the same side. If Trump ignores or blacklists outlets he deems hostile, and others in the industry don’t defend them, the public loses out on the perspective those reporters bring, and we as an industry lose out in our efforts to hold power accountable.”

The press in the moment at the press conference did not respond — certainly everyone was shocked — other than that another journalist asked Trump the same question Acosta had, which was admirable.

As days passed, U.S. media companies — or at least their journalists — seemed to see the path they might have for the next four years might be easier as a united force.

Other journalists defended the reporter after the press conference.
Other journalists defended the reporter after the press conference.

Shepherd Smith of FOX News, long criticised as a media organisation with a right-leaning agenda, was one of the first to speak out in CNN’s defense:

The National Press Club had this to say: “Presidents shouldn’t get to pick and choose which reporters’ questions they will answer based on what news outlet for which they work.”

In the days following, Trump said he was considering moving the White House press briefing room out of the White House, then backed down from that, saying he might just cherry pick who would be allowed to take part in his press conferences.

A symbolic sketch of CNN reporter Jim Acosta.
A symbolic sketch of CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

As I said the week of Trump’s election, news media companies have a real chance here to benefit from the sudden interest in legitimate journalism. Fake news has taken a hit. Journalism is back in fashion (that said, I have spent so much time in the past several months explaining to truly intelligent people the difference between the two; it isn’t as intuitive as you’d think).

Vernon continued in his article: “The press needs to be ready to work together to ensure that reporters are provided the access and information necessary to accurately and honestly cover the new administration.”

A free press should not be a partisan issue in the United States of America. It is up to our industry — as a whole — to make sure it doesn’t become one.

About Dawn McMullan

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