Editor's advice to journalists covering Trump: 'drink some coffee and work'

Amber Jamieson

Donald Trump’s assault on the media may be exhausting journalists, but the New Yorker editor David Remnick dished out some tough love to tired reporters.

“You can’t afford to be exhausted. This is the time you drink some coffee and work,” Remnick said, speaking ahead of a Columbia Journalism Review conference on Friday called “Covering Trump: what happens when journalism, politics and fake news collide”.

“We need to do our damn jobs with a sense of not political opposition but sheer intensity for finding out what’s true and what’s not.”

The event is co-sponsored by the Guardian and Reuters, and will be livestreamed today on the Guardian.

Fittingly, just hours after Remnick spoke with the Guardian, actor Tom Hanks delivered a new espresso machine to the White House press corps, along with a typewritten note calling on them to “keep up the good fight for truth”.

At the conference held at Columbia Journalism School in New York City, panels will focus on fake news, life on the election trail and dumping data in the Trump era. Remnick is the keynote speaker, where he will be in conversation with New Yorker writer and Columbia Journalism School dean, Steve Coll.

Remnick, 58, said he’s noticed that many reporters, particularly young reporters, were fuelled with a “vivid sense of mission” thanks to Trump’s electoral victory.

Does covering the new president give him a sense of mission?

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that there is an added intensity during a time when the president of the United States has sought to paint the press – particularly some organs of the press, some of the most reliable, the most sincere – as enemies of the American people,” replied Remnick. “I think that’s unacceptable. It’s one thing to criticize an article, push back against a piece, but to seek to divide the American people in so many ways, including in this way, requires our full attention.”

The reporters roundtable, featuring panelists Elisabeth Bumiller from the New York Times, the Guardian’s Sabrina Siddiqui, the New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb and CNN’s Brian Stelter, kicks off at 10.40am.

Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, will appear on a panel about fake news, a term he said he now struggles with after it was co-opted by Trump and those on the right to mean anything they don’t agree with, rather than fabricated news reports, deliberately intended to be untruthful.

“The term has been misappropriated,” Smith said.

BuzzFeed was widely criticized after it published a report on the new president’s alleged connections to Russia, which was compile by a former British intelligence officer. Other media outlets, including the Guardian reported on some of the allegations in the document, which could not be independently verified. BuzzFeed published the document in full.

But that doesn’t qualify as “fake news”, Smith argued. “You can be transparent with readers about what you know, what’s true, what’s false, where you’re not sure,” he said.

Fellow fake news panelist Sheryl Huggins Salomon, senior editor-at-large at the Root, said that part of the issue with the media’s credibility with the public is that people don’t understand the work trained journalists do – and don’t know how to “assess the validity of information they are receiving”.

“I think there needs to be media literacy education in schools,” she said. “The public has to understand the process of what we do and how we do it”.

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