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Emerson Journalism Faculty on Globe’s Defense of #FreePress

The Boston Globe asked newspapers around the country to join them Thursday, August 16, in editorializing against Trump’s characterization of the press as an “enemy of the people.” Hundreds of publications joined the Globe in defending the role of journalism and a free press.

Professor Janet Kolodzy, chair of Emerson’s Journalism Department, said that the fact that hundreds of newspapers came together for one purpose is testament to how toxic the situation has become.

“Journalists typically are extremely competitive, so to take an action like this was basically a decision to put something else in the arsenal of addressing the repetitive denigration of those in the press,” Kolodzy said.

She said journalists need to defend their profession and their role in democracy just as often as Trump calls them “enemy of the people.” 

“We all know the more times something is said, the more people will start to believe it,” she said. “It’s not self-serving, unless serving the public is self-serving.”

In the end, it’s not about the president, it’s about our communities, said Kolodzy, paraphrasing the editorial board of the Annapolis Capital Gazette – a paper that also decided against running a #FreePress editorial Thursday, despite losing five employees in a newsroom shooting in June.

“Day in and day out, doing the job is how we provide credibility and a reality check on why we need journalists,” she said.

Assistant Professor of Journalism Tim Riley thinks the coordinated editorials weren’t the best way to deal with a president who is adept at manipulating the press.

“I think they just handed him a giant club, and it’s not that I’m against [the editorials],” Riley said. “But I think it’s a year or two late and it just allows him to rail on how 'we’re all against him' and it becomes a weapon in his arsenal.”

To demonstrate how Trump is “out ahead” of journalists, Riley pointed to Wednesday’s news cycle. On the day that the financial fraud trial of Trump’s former campaign chair was sent to a jury, Trump announced that he was revoking the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic whose appointment ended when Trump took office.

The security clearance of a former CIA chief is nowhere near as newsworthy as the Paul Manafort trial, Riley said, but Trump knows how to upstage an unflattering story, so journalists spent half the day reporting on Brennan’s Twitter feud with the president.

“He keeps laying this trap, and we keep falling for it,” he said.

Riley said he thinks journalists should boycott White House press briefings, since no valuable news comes out of them anyway. That would force the administration to learn how to better communicate, he said.

“I think journalists are being put in a situation where they’re forced to get really creative and figure out how to outflank the guy,” Riley said.

However the Globe’s gambit plays out, there are those who appreciate the effort to defend the fourth estate. ArtsEmerson, for one, is thanking the Globe for its defense of press freedom on the Paramount and Cutler Majestic marquees.

Kolodzy said since the election, she’s seen nothing but pride among Emerson journalism students who are excited to do their part in keeping the public informed and engaged in their democracy.

“Journalists are not the enemy of the republic,” she said.


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