Apologies to Dickens, but this really might be the best and the worst of times for American journalism.
As near-daily attacks on the press are launched from President Trump’s Twitter account and trust in the media sinks to record lows, readers are subscribing to national newspapers in droves and newsrooms across America are infused with a renewed sense of mission.
“This is a moment where you’ve got both the mission and the public support of journalism, paradoxically, pretty high in the face of these public attacks,” said David Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent.
Folkenflik, a 15-year veteran of the media beat and author of “Murdoch’s World,” explained how news executives are responding to Trump’s unconventional presidency, press bashing from the White House, the recent outpouring of leaks and the possibility of funding cuts to NPR in an interview for Covering 45, Poynter’s podcast chronicling the press and Trump.
On the news industry’s response to President Trump
“I wouldn’t call it an existential crisis. The polls ultimately were right in the broad scale and wrong in the particulars, but wrong in a very meaningful way. Most major news executives just didn’t allow the possibility that this would happen. I think at this point, most news executives, with slightly different interpretations of what this means, say ‘Hey, look, we gotta devote ourselves to first principles.'”
“And (they aren’t) accepting a role as an enemy at all, but accepting the role that there is supposed to be built into our system a series of checks and balances and a tension between what the press is attempting to achieve and what government officials are attempting to achieve — even under the best of circumstances.”
On the effects of White House press bashing
“Trump has talked about The (failing) New York Times. The New York Times and The Washington Post have received tremendous response from readers converting themselves into subscribers. At one point, I reported last year that CNN had a significant bump for the election season. They’re doing very well. This is a moment where you’ve got both the mission and the public support of journalism, paradoxically, pretty high in the face of these public attacks.”
On the possibility of federal funds being cut at NPR
“If and when this starts to move through Congress and becomes part of our formal budget, you can be sure we will be covering it, and our listeners and public broadcasting audiences will take great interest in it — as I’m sure will a lot of other people.”
“The thing about this is, it’s been tried, and I’ve covered it on a number of previous iterations. If I recall correctly, in 2011, there was an attempt by a number of critics of public broadcasting to get a similar thing done.”
“It turns out that in states and regions both blue and red, that a lot of people really value what NPR and PBS and public broadcast represents and what it specifically offers. One of the secret things about NPR is that we and our member stations have newsrooms and coverage from NPR bureaus as well as from some of these stations from rural and conservative and suburban parts of the country that a lot of major news organizations don’t cover and don’t go to.”
“I haven’t heard people flip out, in part because there are a lot of things that are getting looked at and proposed for cancellations or changes. But I also haven’t heard them flip out, because I think they’re waiting to see if this is truly a priority for people for Congress and the administration or one on a long wish list that may or may not get through.”
On the risky business of using anonymous sources
“There’s this whole question of, is the Trump administration in some ways withholding official comment so that people get things slightly inaccurate so that they can then be denounced? That’s a neat little Jedi mind trick, if that’s the case. One of the problems with having anonymous sources is, it’s very hard to hold them accountable unless you’re willing to out them after the fact if they get it wrong. And that’s it’s own problem.”