Journalists tackle accountability in the Trump Era on first day of ISOJ

Watch video of the accountability journalism panel discussion.

The 2016 presidential election left many readers with a distrust of the media, who, in their eyes, made a gross misjudgment of the outcome. This left journalists with two big questions: How can they continue holding public officials accountable despite public distrust? What can journalists do better?

From L to R: Evan Smith, McKay Coppins, Sopan Deb, Clara Jeffery and Matt K. Lewis. (Mary Kang/Knight Center)

Speakers at the 2017 International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ) panel called “Accountability journalism in the Trump era” set out to answer these questions and more from their perspectives as editors and reporters from across the country.

The panel was chaired by Evan Smith, CEO and co-founder, Texas Tribune, and featured McKay Coppins, staff writer at The AtlanticSopan Deb, general news reporter at The New York Times; Clara Jeffery, editor-in-chief of Mother Jones; and Matt K. Lewis, senior columnist of The Daily Beast.

Deb was quick to refute the idea that there needs to be a vast overhaul of the entire journalism profession, because journalists operate so differently depending on their outlets and their beat.

“What fundamental changes do we need to make as journalists in the Trump era?” Deb asked. “Again, it depends on the type of journalism. But I dispute the idea that there needs to be fundamental changes to what we do as a profession. We don’t need to change everything that this profession has done for centuries and we don’t need to change the rules because Donald Trump has become president.”

Instead of big changes, Deb said more can be done on an individual basis.

“Donald Trump does not get to decide what is or isn’t good journalism,” Deb said. “For those of you who might be worried about constantly being characterized as fake news, stop worrying. Control what you can and just do good work because you’ll never make everybody happy.”

While panelist Clara Jeffery said journalists need to ask how to hold Trump accountable when he’s “trying to gaslight the entire industry,” Matt K. Lewis countered that, instead, journalists need to look inward and ask themselves: “How can we do a better job of holding journalism accountable?”

“Usually, when people in the mainstream media make mistakes, they at least admit it and apologize and cop to it, but frankly there are too many mistakes being made and the question we have to ask ourselves is why?” Lewis said. “I do not believe it’s because the liberal media is biased and out to get Donald Trump. I think it has almost everything to do with technology.”

Lewis expanded on his point, citing a recent incident where a New York Times sports editor shared a comparison photo that made it seem as though more New England Patriots visited President Obama than President Trump to honor their Super Bowl victories. In reality, the number of players was comparable, prompting the New England Patriots to tweet a correction.

Instead of focusing on breaking news or being the first to tweet a photo, Lewis said journalists need to make accuracy their priority.

The 18th ISOJ is in Austin, Texas from April 21 to 22, 2017. Live streaming of panels is available at in English and Spanish.