By Marissa Payne
While posts on President-elect Donald Trump’s Twitter page suggest “failing” newspapers are “becoming irrelevant,” journalists believe their importance to society will only rise over the next four years.
As with any government official, it is important that journalists play watchdog roles when reporting on Trump, said Brianne Pfannenstiel, a reporter for the Des Moines Register.
“I think we play an important role in democracy and in ensuring that the people are aware of what’s going on in their government from a nonbiased point of view,” she said.
Over the course of his campaign, Trump alarmed reporters after revoking the credentials of media outlets such as the Washington Post “based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record-setting Trump campaign,” according to Trump’s Twitter account. He also denied a reporter from The Daily Iowan access to a campaign event in October.
“Trump more than any other candidate in recent history made criticizing and attacking the media one of his signature points,” said Cary Covington, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science.
Based on how Trump has treated reporters and reacted to the media over the course of his campaign, Pfannenstiel acknowledged concerns that Trump will limit press access once he is in the White House.
Jack Shafer, a reporter for Politico, said journalists can use other bureaucratic systems to report on Trump.
“Journalists are resourceful enough to be able to report on a president or any other public official who’s not outwardly cooperative,” he said.
An article from the Washington Post checked some of the stories from the New York Times that Trump has commented about on social media and found the stories were accurate despite Trump’s claims of inaccuracy and dishonesty.
The media can report these findings to the public, Covington said, but Trump supporters in particular are unlikely to trust the national media because they are not held in high regard as an institution.
“People who are inclined to support Trump basically don’t believe anything that the traditional mainstream news organizations say, including claims that Trump lies,” he said.
Both Pfannenstiel and Covington said the reason Trump supporters readily dismiss proof that Trump has lied is because people seek information that does not challenge their fundamental beliefs.
“The public has gotten used to finding outlets that cater to their own pre-existing viewpoints, and they tend to prefer those,” Pfannenstiel said.
Another reason this occurs, she said, is because many Trump supporters simply don’t believe the media.
“As reporters, we expect that once you fact-check someone in a position of power that people will respond to that, and a lot of Trump supporters definitely didn’t care,” she said.
Pfannenstiel said she believes the media will have to work hard to regain the public’s trust.
“This election has really been kind of a turning point for us, and I think we need to be more vigilant about holding people accountable and not letting our own biases creep into our coverage,” she said.
Covington said it is more complicated than aiming to regain the public’s trust ; it really boils down to is reporters will always frame stories a certain way.
“You’ll frame a story one way or another, and within the frame of the story you’re telling, you may be factual, you may be accurate, but the facts you think that matter or the way they apply to the story you’re telling is very much shaped by the … point of view that you’re taking to the story,” he said.