The Media Today

We’re all caught in the dizzying Trump news cycle

August 17, 2018

A former aide reveals that she secretly taped the president and other administration figures in the White House. The press secretary can’t guarantee that the president hasn’t used the n-word. More than 350 news outlets publish editorials denouncing the president’s attacks on the free press. Yesterday, WaPo national security correspondent Greg Miller capped things in a tweet: “President’s campaign chairman is waiting to find out if he’s going to prison. Architect of bin Laden raid is daring president to take his clearances. Reality show contestant/WH employee has tape of $180K offer she got to stay quiet. Years of chaos in one day.”

Lost in the churn, it can be difficult to step back and recognize just how crazy the news cycle surrounding President Donald Trump has become. Trump’s ability—sometimes by choice, sometimes by unintended consequence of his own actions or those of the people with whom he has surrounded himself—to command coverage is unparalleled. When we look back at this period in America, will this simply be seen as the new normal? Or will Trump prove unique in his monopolization of attention?

ICYMI: Journalism as jihad in Afghanistan

Trump’s role in supercharging the news cycle through his scandals, stream-of-consciousness Twitter feed, and hunger for attention is astounding. If you’re struggling to adapt, you’ve got company. A Pew report released earlier this summer found that more than two-thirds of Americans report feeling worn out by the amount of news. Some have responded by checking out of the daily grind, but for others—especially those who don’t have the luxury of ignoring political decisions that will affect them or their loved ones—tuning out isn’t an option.

Journalists aren’t immune to becoming overwhelmed. Every week, it seems, I’ll find myself in conversations with colleagues in which we lament the whirlwind pace, the inability to focus on one subject before it is shoved from the front pages by the next five-alarm fire. Early this year, CJR’s Alexandria Neason eloquently captured the burnout that some reporters experience, writing, “I suspect I’m not alone in feeling trapped in the news cycle. Most days, even a brief step away from a laptop or television can put a casual reader of the news far behind….With every ban, every policy threat, every protest I covered, every executive order, every press conference (the entire newsroom plugged in, our eye rolls almost in sync), every alarmist headline, every controversial tweet and the inevitable backlash—I became increasingly exhausted and void of any energy to actually do my job. I’d spent it all just trying to keep up.”

Trump has challenged the press not just through his “fake news” and “enemy of the people” schtick, but also by straining the bounds of our ability to separate the serious from the sensational. More than 18 months into the presidency, the media is still struggling to keep up and, as Miller said, audiences must sift through years of chaos on a daily basis.

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Below, more on a totally normal, completely chaotic week, and the new reality of our news cycle.

  • Visualizing the news: Axios charted the insane Trump news cycle of 2018, using Google News Lab’s data on the googling trends of the public. Is it possible that Helsinki was only a month ago?
  • Rewind: At the end of Trump’s first year in office, The New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer wrote: “This may be Mr. Trump’s greatest trick: His tornado of news-making has scrambled Americans’ grasp of time and memory, producing a sort of sensory overload that can make even seismic events—of his creation or otherwise—disappear from the collective consciousness and public view.”

  • A problem from the start: Even in Trump’s first hundred days, the press was struggling to keep its head above water. My former colleague David Uberti wrote that “the question we’re left with, posed time and again by journalists on Twitter, in stories, and on podcasts that double as support groups for media whiplash, is whether the public can cope. And consensus speculation is that mere mortals can’t possibly keep up.”
  • What’s next?: Will today bring a verdict in the Manafort trial? A new revelation by Omarosa? A new storyline driven by Trump’s tweets?
  • Things that matter: Examples of the stories that are easy to miss with all of the Trump news: This week Puerto Rican officials announced that power has finally been restored to all homes that lost electricity from Hurricane Maria eleven months ago. On Thursday, the US government revealed that 565 migrant children remain separated from their families.


Other notable stories

  • The Intercept’s James Risen argues that yesterday’s wave of editorials criticizing Trump’s attacks on the media didn’t go far enough. “Most American editors and reporters today disavow old-fashioned, crusading journalism, in which a news organization or even a group of news outlets throw all of their energy into an all-out assault on one story. They fear that crusades look partisan,” Risen writes. “But crusading journalism is what is needed now.
  • CJR’s Alexandria Neason dives into a controversy surrounding The Washington Post’s feature on two white workers struggling to adjust to changing demographics at a chicken factory in Pennsylvania. The Post defended its work after facing widespread criticism for the execution of the piece, and Neason reports on Editor Martin Baron’s conversations with some of those who have called for diversity and inclusion training at the outlet.
  • The Texas Observer and Quartz have launched a nine-part series on the impact of climate change in the Rio Grande Valley. The stories feature snazzy graphics, and the first part focuses on the way a fight for water can push nations apart, or bring them together.
  • We shouldn’t take anything Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says seriously, argues CJR’s Mathew Ingram. “Only now, more than a decade after Twitter was founded, is Dorsey finally willing to take a hard look at some of the potential negative effects of the technology he and his company created, years after those problems were first brought to their attention,” Ingram writes. “What took so long?”
  • Dylan Byers is jumping from CNN to NBC and MSNBC, where he’ll serve as senior media reporter. Byers recently launched the “Pacific” newsletter for CNN, and will continue reporting on the intersection of tech, Hollywood, and media for the peacock network.

ICYMI: A united front in defense of the press

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.