In June 2015, Donald Trump announced that he was running for president and made a promise: if elected, he would build a border wall. Mexico would pay for it. Three and-a-half years later came the longest-running government shutdown in United States history, accompanied by a dizzying onslaught of border coverage. Mexico would not pay; would we? Stories alternately framed the shutdown as a serious hardship for furloughed workers and mere partisan bickering over wall funding. “Americans following local and national media coverage would be forgiven for thinking they had fallen into a parallel universe—with the episode being presented both as a moment of crisis and hardship, and a curiosity that mostly registered as a politically motivated annoyance,” Maggie Astor and Michael Grynbaum wrote for The New York Times.
When there were still decisions to be made about whether Trump’s wall would ever happen and who would fund it, there was plenty of coverage of the debate. Now the shutdown has come and gone. Congress emerged with an agreement to give Trump $1.375 billion for physical barriers. Trump, unsatisfied, declared a state of emergency that would give him access to more money; the Pentagon threw in $1 billion. At this moment, construction is happening on Trump’s wall, which we know because of Customs and Border Protection Bureau press releases picked up by local news outlets in places like the Rio Grande Valley. But with the exception of the occasional story—like Thursday’s news of legal challenges to Trump’s emergency declaration, filed by House Democrats and groups like the ACLU—coverage of what this means at the border seems to have all but disappeared.
Most coverage has shifted to the possibility that Trump will close the United States-Mexico border—another hypothetical—rather than the wall that’s being built. In the past week, news organizations have run analyses on the cost of shutting down the border; zeroed in on clashes between Trump and Republicans like Mitch McConnell; and invited readers and viewers to “watch Trump flip” on his threat to shut down southern immigration.
It’s hard not to feel like the spotlight on the border wall saga has dimmed. Lost in the news cycle, we can find it difficult to step back and take in all the pressing storylines at any given time, thanks in no small part to Trump’s ability to command coverage. Maintaining intense scrutiny of the southern border is no small feat, and many reporters have done a good job covering some facets of the story, most notably when they have pressured federal agencies to release information on families and children being separated and detained. But what mainstream outlets can continue to do, and do better, is allocate as many resources to reporting on the ground as they have to the fighting in Washington.
More about covering the border:
- To improve coverage of the US-Mexico border, Tiffany Stevens wrote for CJR in February, have reporters living on the border write about it. More reporters are living among residents in US-Mexico border cities, Stevens says, helping national outlets like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
- During the government shutdown in January, Natalie Pattillo wrote for CJR that media amplifies the antics of partisans, which leads to greater polarization .
Other notable stories:
- BBC news director Fran Unsworth told staff in an email obtained by The Guardian not to tweet strong political views, saying there’s no distinction between personal and official social media accounts.
- In spite of anti-press rhetoric, students are undeterred from pursuing careers in journalism, and criticism of the press may actually be energizing student journalists, Philly.com’s Anna Orso reports.
- BuzzFeed management continues to drag its feet on recognizing the its union, wanting to recognize specific titles, not the newsroom as a whole. Jack Crosbie of Splinter reports on accusations of union-busting.
- Snap CEO Evan Spiegel has long tried to differentiate Snapchat from other social platforms by keeping it closed off; unlike Facebook and Twitter, for example, Snapchat is inherently ephemeral, and doesn’t have share counts or a newsfeed. That has helped it avoid the sorts of privacy scandals and disinformation campaigns that have plagued Facebook. But now Snap is cautiously opening up its platform, adding integrations like sharing buttons with publications like the Washington Post as a launch partner.
- The Guardian has the story that, in incoming proposals, the UK government is asking social media companies to produce transparency reports and introducing an independent regulator to police them.
- In a tweet Thursday, MacKenzie Bezos said that her divorce from Jeff Bezos was finalized and that she would give her ex-husband voting control of her Amazon shares—and leave him with their full stake in the Washington Post.
- Per the Associated Press, Twitter, following criticism, has stopped blocking French government ads urging people to vote.
- A new study shows that even when Facebook ads aren’t targeted, they end up being racially biased because of the design of their algorithm. In one example, per a report from The Intercept’s Sam Biddle, “Facebook delivered our broadly targeted ads for houses for sale to audiences of 75% white users.”