What plagues a journalist? Surely any left-of-center writer gets no joy out of reporting on the world of politics today. And no doubt the climate of obsessive fact-checking can be tedious and exhausting. But when I sit down to write my next piece, these facts are not what haunt me, not what paralyzes my hands over the keyboard with my deadline looming. It is rather the pressure to feel I must write something that has never been written before, and the bitter resentment that I can’t.
Any go-to story would be to report on Donald Trump’s latest controversial tweet, or the latest amoral political decision he proposes. The default setting seems to be to indict the Trump administration, and cue the media pundits who will continue to gripe about the state of the country under these policies, or other who will defend Trump’s gaffes tooth and nail until the next media frenzy. And so the cycle goes unwaveringly.
Valuable opinions about whether or not what is being reported on constitutes as news have been circulating for a while, yet have done little to change the agenda-setting of news stations. In November of 2016, The New York Times began to forward criticism of obsessive reporting over even the most minute of Trump-related news.
In fact, as of March 2017, journalism’s obsession with Trump had produced the equivalent of about $2 billion in free media, according to an analysis by mediaQuant, a media studies company that uses advertising rates to assign a dollar amount to the amount of media coverage a candidate gets. So despite this overwhelming effort to expose Trump’s corruption or intolerance, news media just provided his administration with free advertising.
So what can I say that hasn’t already been said? What headline can I conjure that has not already appear across chyrons on CNN? What plagues a journalist today is the need to be heard in a professional field that seems increasingly inclinded to manufacture a chorus of collective thought rather than a collection of individual voices. The saturation of today’s media frenzy challenges us to somehow dig up from within ourselves a profound and groundbreaking analysis of the volatile political climate of Washington, D.C., some solution to the polarization of US politics.
And unfortunately, this intense media saturation has done little to actually overthrow the Trump administration, or convert his faithful supporters. Checking in with Trump supporters after the 100-day mile marker into his presidency, many news media sources have been anxiously investigating the reactions of Trump’s base. And uniformly most of his supporters are still backing him with the same sustained fervor as when he was campaigning. One supporer from Nazareth, Pennsylvania even argues to cut Trump some slack thus far: “Please, give him a second. He’s already done more than Obama ever did.”
The push to break the monotony of the news calls into question the job of journalists today. Moreover, the sting of unoriginality makes us consider what intrinsically motivates writers to keep producing media that may very well just bleed back into the humdrum of the morning paper, or the chorus of media pundit outcries on the nightly news.
The struggle just to be heard in any meaningful way rivals the difficulty a journalist faces to reframe a media story in a way that makes it original.
I do not know if and how writers like myself can break the routines of news media. I have not found within myself the wisdom to amplify my voice or the voice of another over the banal discourse we read every morning. I just hope that if someone does find that answer, that they empower themselves to make it known, and I hope that we all listen.