Letters from our readers: Covering Trump, #MeToo, & Facebook

Here is a selection of emails and Facebook comments we’ve received in recent months. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, location, and any relevant affiliation. Reader feedback has been edited for length and clarity.


Fear itself: Donald Trump isn’t the only existential threat facing journalism

The journalism world has changed so much since I started in the field that it’s almost unrecognizable anymore.

While in college in Albany, NY, in 1961, I landed a job as an overnight telegrapher in the Capital Bureau of United Press International, keeping three TTY machines running in the dead of night on three different news wires. By 1963, I wound up as  manager of a one-man bureau in western New York. We had our big stories in those days, but you had to cover it all, no matter what it was. Which meant I went from covering events like the inner city riots in Rochester in July of 1964 to traveling with Robert Kennedy to cover his US Senate campaign.

As hectic and demanding as it all was, we had the incredible benefit of not having videotape or online coverage to deal with. Yes, TV news covered it all, but they had to shoot it on 16mm film, then process and edit the footage before it could be broadcast. And, of course, there was no social media to cause the problems that it does now.

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ICYMI: The Times tech columnist ‘unplugged’ from the internet. Except he didn’t.

Looking back, this all seems so blissful now. I eventually left UPI and journalism, but I have great admiration for the journalists today who give so much to this profession. It was never an easy job, but it was exciting and involving, and I doubt I would enter the field if I were starting out today.

Don Allen, Liberty, MO


Dangers from inside the newsroom

I appreciate Christiane Amanpour’s call for the ruthless elimination of sexual harassment in news outlets.

However, we journalists need to look at the fact that a culture of censorship has grown up in the US in which people in power prohibit employees and others from ever speaking to journalists without notifying the authorities, often public information officers. In addition to intimidating employees who do speak, the process keeps many people from speaking at all.

These rules will hide many kinds of evil, including sexual harassment.

The Society of Professional Journalists has made it a priority to oppose these highly effective restrictions.

However, horrifyingly, a number of news outlets have these mandates on their own employees, with the same type of impact as the nondisclosure agreements explored in an earlier CJR article.

The employment of these restrictions by US news outlets themselves must be one of the most powerful endorsements of censorship in the world today.

One could wonder if news outlets’ use of these mandates is one reason they say so little about these rules in government and elsewhere. This is in face of the fact that millions of people are thus gagged, keeping facts and understanding from the press—and the public—constantly.

Kathryn Foxhall, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Member, Freelance Journalist


How Tom Tryniski digitized nearly 50 million pages of newspapers in his living room

I’ve been using Tom Tryniski’s site for years now and have been constantly amazed at what he’s been able to do, sitting there in Fulton. He has helped me answer many a question for researchers, and I respect his respect for the importance of newspapers in telling the history of New York State.

Vicki Weiss, Librarian, New York State Library


Who killed Time Inc.?

In this obituary for Time magazine and the empire that was built from it, right-wing founder Henry Luce, who routinely made up stories to sell the magazine, is mentioned in passing in one paragraph with nothing provided on his lamentable practice in the early history of the rag, passing off his opinions as news stories without attribution…in other words, deceiving the public with “fake news.” You’d think now, of all times, that would be something to go into, rather than seeking blame for who killed the company.

Clif Brown, Evanston, IL


It’s time to rethink how we cover Trump

One thing that disturbs me as well is the license Trump’s bad behavior seems to give some reporters to engage in it themselves. How many days in a row do we have to hear references to “shithole”?  It reinforces the slur and it forces the abusive term on the reader.

Right or left may respond to it differently, but repeating it isn’t the same thing as referencing it. I’ve also noted many inclusions of Trump mocking the disabled reporter. Don’t reporters get that they are participating in the mockery by re-running it over and over? As you say, some of this is in service of reinforcing or debunking—but it reminds me of middle school kids reinforcing the bully so they don’t get bullied.

I will say that some of the excellent reporting does continue from time to time, and the sheer mass of ugly and unreliable material I have to wade through to get to the good stuff makes me very appreciative of what all reporters are having to deal with.

Thanks for your healthy, linguistically sound, smart article.

Kathy Bowman, Joseph, Oregon


I am a former newspaper journalist who also taught journalism at three universities. I appreciated your essay, although I think it was a little spare on suggestions for how to do it differently. So here are mine:

  1. If you know your source is lying to you, or using you to spin the news or get out their message, or to speak through you to the President (“audience of one”), don’t participate. As I think Jay Rosen suggested, stop sending top reporters to WH briefings—send an intern to pick up a press release or hear if something is said that is important. Don’t participate in a “press briefing” that isn’t. Similarly, stop giving surrogates a platform.
  2. Stop giving this administration a chance to clean up its mistakes. “Did you really say ‘Grab her . . . ‘?” “Are you a racist?” “Why haven’t you condemned . . . ?” “Why haven’t you commented on . . . ?” The more you keep the discussion going on something that is over, the more you give the WH the opportunity to change the narrative or at least create the illusion that there is an open question that needs to be settled. Report what the president said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do.
  3. Be very careful about speculation—what will happen with legislation, who will or won’t be fired. It isn’t news until it happens.

Lois Melina


As The Post opens, journalists share their favorite journalism movies

The only one I would have added is The Front Page (the 1974 Matthau-Lemmon version) only because it’s so much damn fun, though Carey Grant’s Walter Burns in the 1940 iteration, His Girl Friday is equally priceless.

Tom Verde, Pawcatuck, CT


Suicide by news subjects shouldn’t be pinned on media, experts say

I found a few problems in regards to how to safely report on suicide, the biggest being the description on methods used throughout the article. From reportingonsuicide.org, the problem with mentioning methods is listed as follows:

Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.

Your mention of Mr. Johnson’s method of suicide is problematic for this reason. The same is true with the description of Mr. Burros’ death in relation to the Times article. The fact that he died by suicide would be a sufficient way of describing it.

Marshall Taylor, Randolph-Macon College ’19, Religious Studies Major


Google-funded investigations unit helps local UK papers hold power to account

I was quite excited by the fact you were covering a UK story about the Bureau Local project, which is indeed doing great work in a data journalism, but I was saddened to see you quote, without challenge, data from a university study about the state of regional journalism in the UK from 2016 which doesn’t reflect real life in our industry at all.

There’s no doubt we’re stretched these days, but the headline ‘facts’ simply aren’t right, largely due to the terming of what coverage is. The study also took, in my opinion, a very London-centric view on the value of weekly newspapers, which historically have scrutinised councils in far more depth than daily ones.

David Higgerson, Digital Editorial Strategy Director, Trinity Mirror


The source: How hacked emails and a yacht in Monaco ended my career at The Wall Street Journal

While I feel Jay Solomon definitely received a “raw deal,” I was impressed that he identified where he opened himself up to this type of disinformation attack. If it can happen to him with his pedigree and experience as a journalist, imagine what the average person is up against when they think nothing of exposing information about themselves daily. We are in the age of information and information is power and money.

Joseph Martin


Edit tests are out of control, say journalists in search of jobs

This kind of thing is very common in software as well. I’ve been asked to create projects from scratch, work for free, produce open-source code, etc. It’s out of control.

 Kevin Stevens


New study: How to build revenue by connecting with your audience

I have long felt that journalism, as a craft, spends a lot of time and energy assuming what readers and audiences want and not actually engaging them to find out the reality. Change will not be easy. I can recall sitting in on editorial meetings as a reporter in more than a couple of newsrooms and being looked at as some kind of rebel when I would say, “We need to do stories about what people need to know and not always what we think they want to hear.” I am still convinced that readers, listeners, and viewers appreciate and want better journalism. I like what this article has to say and agree that these revenues should be plowed back into the newsroom.

Stu Nicholson


RIP Facebook Live: As subsidies end, so does publisher participation

You can’t encourage outlets to make live content and then distribute that content in such a way that is unreliable for the creator and irritating for the audience. News organizations don’t care about Facebook’s revenue stream. They care about the level of audience engagement the product earns them, and Facebook Live wasn’t doing that. Facebook was just trying to make money, but that’s not what journalists are in it for, and they’re going to abandon platforms that don’t meet their needs no matter who is paying. Facebook. Is not. A news service.

Amy Pachla

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The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.