Editorial: Amateur hour

Inconsistency, disloyalty, lack of honesty, disinterest, unpredictability. These were a few of the attributes that associate professors of political science Chris Ellis and Scott Meinke and professor of international relations David Mitchell used to describe the Trump era during the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy’s penultimate event of the semester on Nov. 14, a pizza and policy panel discussion called “Trump: One Year Later.”

To quote Meinke, Trump as a president is “an amateur deeply unaware of his amateur status.”

Tied up in a statement like this is the fact that journalists, as people who have to cover what Trump does as an amateur president, are also still somewhat “amateurs” in the Trump era. We’re not saying that journalists these days don’t miss a beat in asserting that the media needs to recommit to telling an objective story. Rather, the question becomes, can we still take anything at face value when everything is subjected to heightened scrutiny and opinion?

Major news organizations have sought answers by turning inward and engaging marketing arms to drive truth-seeking advertising campaigns, notably the New York Times’ “The truth is more important now than ever” and CNN’s “Facts First.” Both examples circle back to their respective missions by reframing the importance of truth-seeking in storytelling.

The Bucknellian can take note by prioritizing factual reporting and going the extra mile for stories that need to be told. In our Opinions section, that means painstakingly differentiating and disclaiming opinionated articles versus those in the news section.

At large, this might also mean rethinking other operations of newspapers in relation to political discourse. As much as the Trump presidency has reinvigorated journalists’ commitment to truth and fact-checking, we point to newspaper endorsements as a deteriorating platform. For example, in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race, largely construed as a repudiation of Trump policies, Democrat Ralph Northam won with a moderately-comfortable 54 percent of Virginians’ votes. However, the vast majority of Virginia newspapers failed to endorse him.

Virginia Commonwealth University professor of journalism Jeff South calls newspaper endorsements “a credibility problem.” In a piece published on The Conversation, he wrote that getting out of the endorsement game would “help newspapers regain trust, fend off charge of bias, and show respect for the public’s decision-making abilities.”

In 2016, The Bucknellian did not endorse a candidate for president, stating at the time that it would be irresponsible to jeopardize our role as the only neutral news source on campus, despite our individual political opinions.

The value of newspaper endorsements on the national level remains to be seen as more and more news outlets reconsider where they stand between Trump and a hard place.

We reiterate: our decision to abstain from endorsing a candidate was not for a lack of vested interest in the outcome of the election, nor does it diminish the rigor and dedication of our staff as we continue confronting alternatives facts, amateur politics, and the like.

As student journalists, we need to be able to adapt to the constant changes in the news cycle. We are not living at a time where we can predict what is going to happen on a day to day basis. To echo Nov. 14’s panel, we, too, will stay out of the predicting game, thank you very much.

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