When the 24-7 news cycle is largely wall-to-wall coverage of what the president has tweeted or the scandals facing the White House, there are unknown scores of stories not being written.
“TV comedians and journalists are focusing on the Trump administration,” said David Mindich, a professor of media studies, journalism and digital arts at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. He’ll be joining Temple University in the fall to teach journalism on a slightly larger campus.
“I’m assuming there are famines and skirmishes and issues we’re not covering because we’re just covering, or mainly covering, Trump. It’s something we should worry about, but it’s also very important to hold the leaders accountable.”
He references a feminist criticism of movies: the Bechdel test, in which a movie “passes” if two female characters can have a conversation on screen fully independent of any reference of the male lead.
“In the same way, we can do a modified test about, are there any stories that don’t involve Trump. A newspaper would pass the test if they ran a story or two on the front page that don’t involve Trump. The Washington Post, the New York Times, everything seems to be dominated by the administration. There are many things happening on the local level that need to be covered more.”
Still, Mindich credits and applauds the landmark journalism being down by those two powerhouse publications. They’ve learned from groundbreaking journalism of the past, including the work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the Watergate scandal, taking great pains to report only verifiable incidents and not overshooting what they can back up.
“If you shoot too far and you miss … you set back the investigation,” he said. “Part of what’s been interesting to follow journalistically, when people are exploring the Russian connections (to the Trump administration) is how careful journalists are not to overshoot. When the White House sees something that might be wrong, it calls into question things that might be wrong in other articles. Between the journalists and the White House, it’s interesting.”
He’s also fascinated by the trend of treating newspaper subscriptions as charitable giving.
“I’ve seen a bunch of my friends, who are not journalists or journalism professors, announcing on Facebook that they’re, in addition to giving to charity, they’re getting subscriptions to a new paper. Journalism seen as the same categories as charities by many is a good thing,” Mindich said. “It’s giving to something that serves the public good. You wouldn’t say ‘I’m going to give extra money to Walmart,’ even though, nothing against Walmart, it’s not a company where you think we really needs Walmarts in this time of democracy. People are throwing money at news organizations, NPR, nonprofit news organizations and high-quality journalism.”
It’s also setting the stage for new models of journalism to be developed and flourish alongside the growing number of mass protests organized in opposition of the current administration’s actions or announced intentions.
“Maybe we need to talk about assembling physical forums in downtowns and try to have democracy in action in these forums and sponsored events that really puts you firmly in the democracy business,” he suggested for newspapers. “I think that’s something that journalists need to grapple with. How does the public perceive us as an institution as important as city hall? It’s not only the journalists’ responsibility, it’s also educators, parents and, in general, we as citizens, to understand journalism plays a crucial role.”
David Mindich, a professor of Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, returns to talk with It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell about the importance of covering things other than the current administration while serving the public and providing crucial, well-researched information to hold leadership accountable.