For many, the steady drumbeat of news about the scandal-plagued Trump White House is downright depressing. Indeed, a Google search of the phrase “Trump depressing” turns up nearly 800,000 results, from Jane Goodall lamenting the president’s climate change policies to Alec Baldwin threatening to ditch his hilarious Trump impersonation next season on “Saturday Night Live” because it’s too, well, you know. (“If everything stays the same in the country as it is now, I don’t think people will be in the mood to laugh about it come September,” Baldwin says.) The Atlantic calls this “the great liberal depression,” and it’s prompted one satirist to create an ad for “Impeachara,” a fake drug designed to convince users that Trump has already been impeached.
But for journalism students, this is a time to watch and learn, because the pros, in particular reporters for The New York Times and Washington Post, are putting on a show we’ll be talking about for years to come. Since even before Trump took office, the two powerhouse papers have been serving up a near-daily diet of scoops about Trump’s misdeeds. Indeed, in just one recent 24-hour period, the Post broke the news that Trump had shared highly classified information with Russian officials, while the Times reported that FBI director James Comey had documented the president’s attempt to quash the FBI probe into his national security adviser.
In other words, students no longer have to listen to their journalism professors wax nostalgic about the days when Woodward and Bernstein were exposing the Watergate scandal. As Kyle Pope, editor in chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, recently told the Post: “This is the great newspaper war of my career. I mean, I have not seen this level of intensity with stories of this magnitude and this kind of frequency since I’ve been in this business. As a reader, it’s amazing, and I think as a journalist, it’s amazing. I’ve said before that I think this is probably the most exciting time to be in journalism that most of us have ever lived through.”
So what should journalism students do, and what can they learn, during what many are calling a new golden age of journalism? First, and most obviously, they should be following the news, especially the work of reporters who have been breaking the Trump stories. By doing so they can learn important lessons about thorough reporting and the use of sources, anonymous and otherwise, in news stories. For instance, count how many people are interviewed in each story. Are those sources in a position to know what they’re talking about? Also, analyze how well the story’s lead is supported by its evidence.
By doing this, journalism students will come to appreciate a line that I use at the start of every semester in my journalism classes – it really is all about the reporting. Why is this important? Because we’ve recently been through a period where many online-only news sites were stressing clever writing or aggregation over dogged investigative reporting. Ratings-hungry cable news channels emphasize opinion-mongering and pundit shoutfests over newsgathering.
But as we’ve seen with the scoops on Trump, it’s hard-news reporting that can really change the national conversation about what the White House is doing, not punditry or clever opinion columns. And it’s hard-news reporting that has the potential to dredge up the kind of revelations that might perhaps lead to a reckoning of one sort or another for the White House. If that happens, we won’t need Impeachara.