President-elect Donald Trump creates new environment for journalism

For UAA journalism student Zakiya McCummings, reporting on music and culture has always been a passion. With last week’s election results, McCummings has found her purpose redefined.

“I’m terrified, but I also feel incredibly empowered and full of purpose,” McCummings said. “The thing that drew me to journalism was always music, pop culture and culture itself. But now after this moment in history where my life is potentially altered forever by this one decision made by my home country, I feel changed. I feel as though there is a different purpose for me being in this field. I do feel like everything I’ve done up until this point has led me to a good place to be ready for what’s coming. I’m extremely aware that it will be ugly and there will be a lot of pain.”

McCummings is just one of many working journalists that are worried about their career in the era of Trump.

“Donald Trump based a large portion of his campaign on distrust in the media. Claiming Journalists were liars, aligned with Clinton and colluding with her to defame him,” Matthew Johnson, marketing and promotions producer for KTVA, said. “The result of this was his followers viewing all journalists as members of the ‘Clinton owned media,’ this sweeping generalization of the news media has turned us into the enemy in the eyes of some Trump supporters.”

Johnson experienced America’s distrust in the media firsthand on election night.

“For nothing more than doing their jobs, Journalists are being met with public death threats,” Johnson said. “On election night I already felt the effects of Trump’s anti-media campaign. Outside of a Republican election hot-spot, upon seeing my Channel 11 jacket, a Trump supporter told me that “Trump has it, you guys are done!” meaning, presumably, that news media was going to be dead in our country under a Trump presidency. What’s so scary about that is that people don’t see Journalists as individuals, but rather part of a diabolical machine designed only to misinform and coerce.”

This sort of behavior may be new to the Anchorage area, but it’s been happening for months in the lower 48. For Todd Walker, a national correspondent with the E.W. Scripps Company, going to election events and conventions resulted with security tagging along, or just a quick call away in the case that the events turned hostile.

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“My company had private security lined up for us in the event that protests after the election turned hostile, especially in the event of a Trump loss. Thankfully the protests so far have remained pretty peaceful, and I was inside Trump campaign headquarters on election night, and everyone in there was very respectful as well,” Walker said. “We did have private security during both the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer since I was assigned to cover the protests outside the arenas. I also had them when I covered the riots in Charlotte. Our company policy is [that] anytime we are heading into a hostile or violent situation we will have private security with us. Per that same policy, they are not allowed to be armed.”

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Journalism and the news is being challenged by the American people in the wake of last Tuesday's election results. Photo credit: Victoria Petersen

Ethical and necessary journalism is at risk when many Americans lack confidence in its mainstream news sources. During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump created an environment for media distrust as a way to trivialize criticism towards him and his campaign.

“I am worried. Donald Trump ran much of his campaign on bashing, hating and blaming the media. It was already a convenient way for politicians to pass the buck on a mistake, but it’s reached another level…” Walker said. “Were there plenty of reasons for people to have trust issues before? Sure. But now I’m biased, in the tank, corrupt, evil, whatever you want to call me, when I don’t confirm your own personal bias with my reporting.”

This distrust has resulted in fake news sites, appealing to the bias of many trump supporters.

“With the proliferation of opinion sites masquerading as faux news sites, people can consume their information through their own personal filter. Anything that doesn’t fit into their world view is now viewed as biased. That has lead to trust in “the media,” a term I despise, to drop to all-time lows even faster than before,” Walker said.

Fake news doesn’t get filtered through social media very well, making it easy to share a click-bait headline which influences voters across the country.

“The news that’s reported is helpful for democracy, but unfortunately in the absence of it there’s been circulation of news that is fake and people can not tell the difference and that harms our country and that harms our community If we don’t have information that we can trust… I think that fake news influenced this election.” Julia O’Malley, UAA Atwood Chair of journalism and local freelance journalist and blogger, said.

The lack of one-on-one interviews with politicians leads to poorer stories. Writing based on tweets and posts only informs the public on what they have already seen on their twitter or Facebook. Host of KTVA’s “Frontiers” and prominent Alaskan journalist who has been working in the field since the 1980s, Rhonda McBride notes the use of social media as a way for politicians to avoid the media.

“I do worry about Trump’s impact on the marketplace of ideas that elections bring to us. What we’ve seen from his campaign supporters is worrisome. If journalists are threatened, it could have a chilling effect on the Democratic process,” McBride said. “Trump has revolutionized campaigns by his use of Twitter. This is a trend that has its roots in Sarah Palin. As governor and a Vice Presidential candidate, she communicated most often through social media, bypassing questions from journalists. Reporters were reduced to quoting her Facebook page, so the marketplace of ideas becomes reduced to bumper stickers and slogans. The election says more about Americans than it does Trump…”

The struggle to be taken seriously is beginning to take hold for many journalists just trying to do their jobs across the nation.

“I don’t know a journalist who is in this business because they are trying to advocate for a point of view. The journalists I know are hard working and low paid and they do it because they feel like it’s important for the public to be informed. It’s a colossal misunderstanding to think that there is some kind of conspiracy. We are hardworking people and there are fewer, and fewer of us. I feel like people think that this is permission to act in a way that you wouldn’t act to a stranger, I know I heard about a journalist who was shouted down, her cell phone thrown on election night, I’ve heard of the defacing of live trucks and I just cannot believe that we would live in a world where people feel like that is OK. The Journalists I know are just doing their jobs.” O’Malley said.

It’s never been more important to create factual, thoughtful and concise journalism. Challenging all ideas and reporting from all sides.

“It’s not my job to tell you what you already know or believe. Often times it’s my job to challenge what you believe, because you aren’t doing that yourself. Where does American media go from here? We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to care less about making people like us, stop being scared of being called biased and dig for the truth.,” Walker said.

Talking and reporting on those who believe differently will make a story stronger. It’s important to remember that everyone has an opinion and everyone’s opinion matters in a democracy, and that’s something worth reporting on. For President-elect Donald Trump, getting used to the world’s criticism will be a challenge.

“One thing that keeps a democracy strong is the opportunity for people to have their own point of view. It can be conservative, liberal, it could be crazy, but you’re entitled to your point of view. But if you’re going to be in public service you cannot have a thin skin, you have to be able to accept the comments made by the citizens,” Edgar Blatchford, professor of journalism at UAA and former mayor of Seward, said. “We need to have more people watching what the local, state and federal government does. You gotta have people watching government and the people have an absolute right to know.”

The threat the Trump administration has on the press is creating more than a stir in the journalism community. The climate of the industry has changed, creating a not-so-comfortable environment to work in.

“Trump had created a toxic atmosphere for journalists to work in, one where even the most unbiased and neutral reporting is viewed as leftist propaganda that should be met with resistance. The idea that his followers will believe anything he says, over what a legitimate news source says, is terrifying, Johnson said. “When a government can control the Press, and control what the people believe, it becomes a breeding ground for totalitarianism.”

Many Trump supporters claim that the attacks on journalists are plants made by the Clinton campaign and other Democrats.

“The media incessantly blamed Trump and his supporters for violence, yet the shocking footage found on the Project Veritas tapes show a much more sinister story; collusion between the DNC and Robert Creamer paying to incite violence at Trump rallies, often the instigators were paid $1000 and up. To this day they still point to Trump as the sole reason of the violence, blatantly ignoring the facts,” Nate Witt, a resident of Fairbanks, said.

Conservatives distrust in mainstream media have looked to Wikileaks, citizen journalists and other alternative news sources. Seeing this administration as an opportunity to reform our current medium of reporting and newscast.

“The fourth estate in its current form is dead, but it’s about [to] be reborn. Donald Trump represents no threat to the media, he simply awakened the masses to the dishonesty, arrogance, and deceit that we see on our TV’s on a daily basis. The only threat to the media is itself. Strange as it seems Donald Trump is the best thing that’s happened for the media in a long time. Americans and independent media have effectively exposed bias of the media,” Witt said. “Now the media can either change its ways or cease to exist. This is great news for journalists because the vacuum created by the fall of dinosaur media has to be filled. We are in a society that cherishes the freedom of speech; it’s considered the fundamental principle that our nation was founded upon. Citizen journalists, alternative news sources, Wikileaks, online videos, whistleblowers, and social media have completely overshadowed traditional media coverage.”

Whether or not you support the Trump administration, the media is changing. For better or for worse is yet to come.