Being a Journalism Student in the Age of Trump

It was the day of my journalism orientation, and I was sitting with new friends in an unfamiliar building. Professors spoke, imparting words of wisdom to their new pupils. One professor said something that I immediately jotted down in a notebook, and have thought of often since that day: “Afflict the comfortable.”

Those three words opened my eyes to a purpose of journalism that I hadn’t previously considered: that journalists are watchdogs, reporting on those in power (those who are “comfortable”) in a truthful and accurate manner. This role of journalists has always been a pillar of democracy; and it has become even more crucial in recent years, months, and even days, as Donald Trump campaigned, won the Electoral College, and was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America.

Here are just two recent events that come to mind when I think of journalists and Trump: his refusal to take a question from CNN at his press conference, referring to the network as “fake news”, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments wherein he told reporters what to write and used journalists as “hate objects.”

Trump said that he has a “running war with the media.” I think he has a running war with the truth, and the fact that some journalists and news organizations are calling him out on his lies makes it easy for him to confuse the media and the truth. This has paved the way for his comments about fake news. If Trump disagrees with a story, then it is fake news (and fake news, according to Trump, is a “TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT” — never mind that many people who create fake news do it for the money, not for the sake of targeting anyone).

Journalism is not perfect; but as a journalism student, I’ve learned that good journalists are committed to learning how to improve and accurately cover what is happening. I am inspired by the journalists who are committed to having honest conversations about the profession, about what is working and what isn’t.

On every level, the discussions I have heard about Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the dossier about Trump — from conversations in my journalism classes to conversations I watched unfold between established journalists on Twitter — are fascinating. These discussions point to the willingness of journalists to learn and improve their abilities, while remaining committed to the principle of accuracy.

Being a journalism student in the age of Trump means a lot of good discussions and valuable learning experiences. But it also means preparing for a profession which the President of the United States of America frequently bashes, and one in which the public does not have a great deal of trust.

And yet I know that for myself, and many of my peers, these things do not discourage us: they motivate us to be more committed than ever to our decision to pursue journalism. We are committed to report accurately, to be watchdogs, and to stand up for the truth. The same can be said of the countless working journalists who refuse to back away from the present-day challenges of journalism.

“Thank you very much. Good luck,” Barack Obama said at his final press conference as President. When I read this in the newspaper, it made me tear up, because it really set the stage for what was coming: a time when luck was needed for journalists. (Journalism has always been a challenging profession. But when the President refuses to take questions from certain outlets, doesn’t even hold a press conference for months after he is elected… it is a different kind of challenge.)

Much ado has been made about Obama telling journalists “Good luck”; I want to focus on the former part of his statement. Obama thanked journalists, and I want to thank journalists, too. Thank you for doing what is right, even though it is not always easy. You have a new generation of journalism students who look up to you, and who are eager to join you in afflicting the comfortable, being watchdogs and, most importantly: being journalists.

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32 thoughts on “Being a Journalism Student in the Age of Trump

  1. Journalism in this age must be so interesting! Trump and his power is making history and learning journalism is really something in this period of time 🙂 however, under the crap circumstances of Trump, it isn’t great that he’s in power but it would be really interesting to do coverage on a character like him

  2. There is another half to your professor’s phrase: “Afflict the comfortable; comfort the afflicted.” I wonder what you think a journalist’s role might be in realizing the latter portion of the statement.


    1. I would hope that the journalists who remain committed to the truth can comfort the many people afflicted by Trump’s actions, as well as offer some hope (perhaps by not sensationalizing his actions)!

  3. Great read! I agree, journalists should remain committed to the truth, no matter how awful some of it may become. I hope the journalism as well as “news” stations won’t stop reporting the truth, and I also hope Mr. Trump can come to terms with that and stop whining about it. Looking forward to following your blog and reading more!

  4. This is a beautiful post and reaches so far beyond just journalism. As a current high school senior who is unsure of what to do with her life, a woman of color, and a daughter of immigrants, Trump’s election has been both a learning opportunity and a curse of the worst kind. I spent most of my years growing up in an extraordinarily liberal bubble that reflected many of my own beliefs under President Obama. Now, with President Trump, not only my politics but my identity is constantly challenged by Trump’s comments to the mostly-liberal media, and even those who I consider my friends. As a result, I’ve grown more as a person, learned how to speak up for what I believe in, and am now considering careers I had never even thought of before because I thought the world would never need more people to be in them. Thank you for not giving up on America and our democracy.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I completely agree with you: today we need journalists, lawyers, and so many other careers, more than ever. I’m so inspired by young people who are already mobilizing to create change!

  5. Hi Sherina! Susie sent me to your blog and I’m fascinated. “Afflict the comfortable” is such a powerful statement! I would admit to being one of those “comfortable” folks, a not-so-interested bystander to events happening “out there.” The great gift of this moment in time is that people like me become aware of the years of comfort we’ve had, and recognize the value of engagement with the world in a totally new way. Journalists seeking truth will help enlighten and enliven the conversation. I look forward to the contribution you’ll make to the discussion!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Angela! 🙂 I like your interpretation of the statement. I interpreted it more as that the “comfortable” are politicians, business people, etc. who may have scandals hidden which journalists may expose. Either way, I certainly agree that journalists can enlighten the conversations we have–especially with what is happening right now in America!

  6. At this time, I really think that being a journalist is quite important. People look towards these journalists to see their thoughts on the subject, to get on the train and see what’s happening, or they just want to read about what’s happening. And quite frankly, it’s probably very hard to be a journalist in this time but also very interesting to see what you can write that’s not hurtful, but as truthful and factual as you can possibly get.

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