Marcus Mabry, from left, moderated the session “Covering Trump” with Marilyn Geewax, Patrick Healy, Ellen Ratner and Jeff Mason at the 2017 NLGJA Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo by Anna-Marie Moran)

 

Donald J. Trump’s 232 days in the Oval Office have been a challenge for journalists.

In addition to unleashing a string of controversial decisions and declarations, the Trump administration has made reporting on the White House more difficult by frequently barring filming during the traditional daily press briefings.

At the 2017 NLGJA Convention in Philadelphia, journalists from across the country discussed these challenges, with panelists from major news organizations sharing their experiences of reporting on President Trump. The panelists were Marilyn Geewax of NPR, Patrick Healy of The New York Times, Ellen Ratner of Talk Media News and Fox News and Jeff Mason of Reuters.

Tables at the session filled up quickly, laptops opened, and attendees appeared eager to hear what the panelists had to say. The topics included Trump’s frequently calling the news media “fake news,” reporters’ access to the administration, and how reporting on the White House has changed since the Obama administration. NLGJA Connect interviewed the panelists and other journalists, and captured highlights from the session. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Ellen Ratner

Ellen Ratner

Panelist, Talk Media News Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent, Fox News analyst

Trump frequently tweets about major news organizations being “fake news.” Considering how much influence he has on his followers, what sort of things do organizations do to counter his words?

They always do what they have done, which is to put out the news. Trump uses social media as a vent. We tend to call him a leaky faucet. No matter how much you tighten the faucet, it still leaks, and that’s Donald Trump.

Do you think journalists have been personally affected by Trump? How difficult do you think it has become for journalists to remain unbiased while reporting or editing?

I think it’s personally upsetting. No one wants to come into work and be called names, however we still report the news as always.

Where have we failed as an industry most seriously in covering Trump?

We have not covered the individual stories of people who are trans and are serving this country and will be affected by [the ban on transgender people in the military]. We need to do more personal stories. That’s the kind of thing that people connect to very well.

Patrick Healy

Patrick Healy

Panelist, New York Times deputy culture editor who covered the 2016 presidential election, CNN analyst

Looking back, the Obama administration appeared to be more transparent. Now, it’s evident that the Trump administration is not. How has that change affected reporters?

Reporters had a hard time with the Obama administration as well. I can’t say one side was great and one wasn’t. However, the Trump administration is making it hard. There’s a lack of access and a lack of clear transparency. It elevates the spotlight on his Twitter even more.

How has covering a president changed with Trump being elected?

It’s become more challenging and more intense. He inflames his audiences to turn hostile. However, we keep our cool, stick by the story and facts, maintain stamina, and ultimately have high standards on reporting.

What was the hardest thing journalistically about covering President Trump’s campaign?

I covered John Kerry in ’04 and Hillary Clinton in ’08. Approaching politicians with a strong degree with skepticism, rigor, analysis and fact-checking was always baseline reporting. But it was on a different level with Trump. We had Trump’s cell phone number, and having that kind of access is incredible. You want to protect it but not go too far or too short with it. But the things he was saying on the phone or in person were totally and patently false. And you wonder — you have a source who’s telling you about the polls that are wrong. And about Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz — how much value is there in this conversation to be constantly arguing with him? It was a strange, kind of surreal relationship.

 

Jeff Mason

Jeff Mason

Panelist, Reuters White House correspondent, former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association

Have reporters’ relationships with the White House changed since Trump became president? Has it become harder for reporters to do the same work they did during Obama’s tenure?

It’s just different. In some ways, the beginning of Trump’s presidency was more accessible. The press pool got a lot of access to President Trump. A lot of his advisers spoke to the reporters. There is a great deal of tension always between the White House and press corps. I think it’s fair to say that tension is particularly high now with Trump’s administration.

Do you think Trump’s relationship with Fox News is appropriate?

Consumers of news and the media, and networks, and politicians and public officials like the president have a responsibility to differentiate what is a news show and what is an opinion show [like Fox & Friends]. There are many people who may turn on Fox News and think it’s the same as the Bret Baier show. It’s not.

Do you think journalists have been personally affected by Trump? How difficult do you think it has become for journalists to remain unbiased while reporting or editing?

A: I can only speak for myself. It’s my job, our job, to remain unbiased, and to report neutrally. I am absolutely committed to being neutral, no matter who is in office. Regardless of what the story is, I report fair and accurate work.

Marilyn Geewax

Marilyn Geewax

Panelist, NPR senior editor and the national economics correspondent for NPR’s website

Do you think there is a way for journalists to better prepare themselves for Trump’s surprise tweets and unpredictable behavior?

You have to be very flexible, and the best preparation is just to be willing to work unusual hours and respond to them in unusual ways. Typically the White House would have more pattern to it. You can expect an afternoon briefing at 12:30 and now with tweets, it can be 6 in the morning or 10 at night. If you don’t have the flexibility to stick with the beat, it’s very hard to cover the president. It’s not so much the matter of preparation, it’s being responsive.

Is covering President Trump completely unprecedented?

It is really quite unprecedented, in many regards … in the modern era. I don’t think you can compare a president from 200 years ago to today’s standard norms. The modern era and ethics really begin with Nixon, so I mean since 1973 is really what we need to compare it against. In that context, in the modern era he’s quite exceptional. He’s very outside the norms.

Sharif Durhams

Sharif Durhams

Senior editor at CNN for breaking news

How has covering a president changed with Donald Trump being elected?

We never had a president that hasn’t had experience in government before, and I think that changes the game. The typical protocols and rules that you tend to follow are a little different. The president is more unpredictable. That changes things, but the coverage itself doesn’t need to change.

Dawn Ennis

Dawn Ennis

Freelance writer on LGBT advocacy

Do you think journalists have been personally affected by Trump? How difficult do you think it has become for journalists to remain unbiased while reporting or editing?

Journalists in general are unbiased but have prejudices. They don’t show their biases in their reporting, but we’re human. The trick is to feel what you feel without letting it color your reporting. LGBT advocacy journalism is different, in which we expect you to know we’re against oppression, and we are for civil rights, and that we take a stand.

 

About the Author
Anna-Marie Moran was born and raised in Queens, N.Y., and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in media studies at Hunter College. Learn more about her here.

 

 

 

If you are a CONNECT alum, we’d love to feature you on our alumni page! Please fill out this short questionnaire.