Many things have changed profoundly in our country since the 2016 election—including news coverage. The sheer amount of news created by President Trump’s tweets alone is unprecedented. And the pace of news out of Washington is hard for the general public to keep up with, never mind journalists.
The president may claim to despise the “fake news,” but he certainly knows how monopolize their attention—perhaps not always to his benefit, but oftentimes to the point of ignoring other important stories. While a news-making president like Trump can provide some opportunities for faculty experts, it can also make breaking through with non-related stories even more difficult. There’s no doubt about it, our jobs—and the jobs of journalists—have shifted.
This shift has been on my mind since last summer when the election really heated up and the news hole for non-related stories shrunk even more. This summer things seem to have only intensified. We have heard directly from journalists in the past few weeks who have told us they’d like to pursue certain stories, but aren’t able to because of political coverage taking up space and time. It’s a situation we talk about often among our staff and colleagues and it’s the focus of conversations in newsrooms across the country.
Recently Jim Braude, host of WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, and Brian McGrory, editor of the Boston Globe, addressed how they’re struggling with this issue on air. While they acknowledge there needs to be a balance of coverage and that people want to hear about topics other than politics, they also know it’s their responsibility to report on the latest from the Trump administration—they just can’t ignore what’s happening in Washington. With all of its dysfunction and upheaval, a lot of resources are being devoted to making sure people are well informed. And yes, that means some of the stories they want to tell are being put on the back burner.
The phenomenon has crept its way into the higher ed trades as well. Nearly all of the top stories, mainly dealing with race relations and North Korea, on Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning are tied to Trump. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that Americans need to know what’s going on in the White House—and it is impacting life on our campuses, because the impact is significant. But, at the end of the day, there’s only so much time and manpower to go around and prioritization often leaves some of the stories we most want to tell on the cutting room floor.
While we may be stuck in this cycle longer than we’d like, and it’s very easy to get depressed over it, I’d argue that our jobs now are more important than ever. Yes, it’s harder to break through than any time in recent history. And stories are taking longer to find a home. But when something does hit it’s that much more impactful. Now is not the time to pull back on pitches, despite how fruitless the efforts may seem. It’s a time to share more stories any way we can, maintain strong relationships, manage expectations and understand that reporters’ are struggling through this shift as well.
With back-to-school season upon us and education stories (albeit fewer than previous years) are starting to pop up, let’s take time to absorb and share them on social media and revel in a little break from “politics as usual.”