Medill professors discuss presidential election’s impact on journalism, teaching

Kristine Liao, Reporter

In the wake of president-elect Donald Trump’s victory, Medill professors said it is more important now than ever for journalists to be aware of their role as public servants and to get out of their comfort zones to talk to people.

“It made us all sensitive to how imperfect our reporting was,” Medill Prof. Loren Ghiglione said. “I suspect it humbled us.”

Since becoming the president-elect, Trump has turned down news agencies’ requests to coordinate a press pool, breaking a long-standing practice intended to ensure the public has a watchful eye on its new leader.

On Thursday, Trump denied media requests to travel with him to his first meeting with President Barack Obama and also refused requests to travel with him immediately after Election Day if he won.

“This (anti-transparency) creates a new challenge for journalists or a continuation of a challenge,” Ghiglione said. “But the watchdog function of the press, which is always there whatever the administration is, is extremely important.”

Medill Prof. Ellen Shearer, founder of Medill on the Hill, said she has been thinking about what this means for students going to Washington, D.C., for the program.

“This may be a chance for journalists to reinvent themselves in a more citizen-focused way, to make sure we understand people who aren’t like us, whatever that ‘us’ might be,” Shearer said.

She said the biggest mistakes journalists made this election cycle was relying too much on conventional wisdom of the U.S. electorate and misunderstanding how midwestern Americans were affected by the Great Recession.

Medill Prof. Stephanie Edgerly identified the lack of understanding in how to interpret polling as another journalistic error. However, she said Medill has been focused in educating its students on basic research methods as well as polling methodology and limitations.

“If anything, the election really reaffirmed what we’re trying to teach our students in today’s crazy media world,” Edgerly said. “Journalism is home to people who can understand numbers, tell stories with numbers and tell stories about numbers.”

Medill Prof. Peter Slevin said there has not been a more important time in modern U.S. history for great journalism. This could be a “Watergate moment,” he said, ushering in a wave of watchdog journalism.

Edgerly emphasized the need for journalists to be self-reflective to improve the profession.

Although Medill has been strong in teaching the fundamentals of journalism, Slevin said, the school now needs to stress to its students the need to go deep in their reporting, be fair in their analyses and to always look for the unexpected.

“This is why we do it — to hold a mirror up to society in really complicated times, to hold the powerful accountable,” he said. “My hope is that the seismic shift in this election will motivate more students to do better journalism.”

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