A few weeks ago, I had the chance to hear one of my favourite journalists, CNN’s Brian Stelter, speak at an event hosted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation. I was excited to hear his thoughts on journalism in the so-called Trump era—and, very early on in his talk, I was taken aback by his positivity on the subject.
Stelter said he sees Trump’s attacks as an opportunity. “When he calls real news fake, it’s a great opportunity to explain why we do what we do,” he said.
Indeed, many news organizations have taken the opportunity (or should I say abundance of opportunities) to explain how journalism really works. I’ve written before about the Toronto Star’s “Trust Project” which, although probably not directly or solely in response to Trump, shows readers the behind-the-scenes of the Star’s journalism. Even a big-screen portrayal of journalism like The Post can help to inform people about the process of journalism.
The issue, of course, is who is listening to those explanations of journalism. Certainly, some people could ignore the explanations or simply dismiss them as “fake news.” But maybe those people’s minds can’t be changed by any explanation, no matter how truthful. It’s still beneficial to be transparent about the reporting process—and when Trump accuses the media of being dishonest, it’s powerful when the media responds by being transparent about their reporting processes.
It’s worth noting, though, that Trump’s attacks on journalism aren’t harmless. In July of last year, he appeared to encourage violence against journalists when he tweeted a video showing a man beating up another man whose face was covered by CNN’s logo. More recently, a man was arrested after threatening to kill CNN reporters at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta. Stelter called the instance “a reminder of the daily trouble” that journalists can face.
He also talked about the fact that Trump forces people to have discussions about important subjects, like gender, race and what it means to be an American. Many of these conversations have come up in the media; through panel discussions, op-eds, investigative journalism, columns, Twitter threads, podcasts and every other medium out there.
As Trump’s time in office has gone on, we have seen more and more of these conversations unfold. Journalism has become an important platform for public debate over controversial topics (take the recent CNN Town Hall on gun control, for example). Journalists have also started a lot of these conversations through their own reporting and investigations, helping to hold truth to power and inform the public about the actions of their elected officials.
It’s a challenging time to be studying journalism, but also an incredibly rewarding one. I was inspired by Stelter’s talk and, as a self-proclaimed optimist, I enjoyed the positive spin he put on Trump’s attacks on the media. It’s easy to look at Trump’s attacks on journalists and see storm clouds. But, as Stelter’s remarks show, there can be a silver lining.