Challenges Abound for Journalists on the Campaign Trail, SPJ DC Event Told

There are challenges aplenty for reporters covering the presidential campaigns, those doing the job contend. Hurdles range from swiftly changing technology to petulant candidates, agreed panelists at a Society of Professional Journalists D.C. Pro Chapter event. Most of the panelists, speaking this evening in Washington and representing a cross-section of new-media political reporters, said they had been banned from covering the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Speakers see that the key to important reporting that draws readership and undergirds the importance of an independent news-media as getting outside the pen: figurative and sometimes literal corrals that campaigns like Trump’s keep reporters in during events. Real people with real stories are in the audiences, and can be interviewed by journalists who wait in line for general admission instead of being fenced in, said three panelists and moderator Alice Ollstein, ThinkProgress political reporter.

“Don’t stay in the press pen,” said Miranda Green, reporter with Decode DC. “Go stand in the audience yourself.” For those on the campaign beat, her advice is that “you can get some great reaction material from that, you can actually talk to people.”

Those on the beat have an obligation to “investigate, to find things out that either the campaign doesn’t want you to know or doesn’t know,” said Tim Mak, Daily Beast senior correspondent. Doing this is a must not just for reporters but for the good of the industry, he said. Mak and others agreed that such journalism is what separates actual journalists from biased or partisan sources.

And therein lies the technological rub — with Snapchat and other platforms that easily allow real-time communication, news-media face competition from many fronts. “Any organization can get their message out through independent channels,” said Mak. “The only reason to have journalism sustainably in the future is to write things that they don’t particularly want you to write,” he said of campaigns and other entities that need to be held accountable. Plus, speakers said, reporters need to correct candidates’ falsehoods — which are numerous this election cycle.

Two mottos that could apply are “let reporters report again” and “make reporters report again,” said Ollstein, also a director of SPJ DC. Ollstein has a button that says “Make reporters report again.”

Panelists vied for the honor of whom was first to be blacklisted from covering the Trump campaign. “We were pretty early on the Trump blacklist,” said Kate Sheppard, Huffington Post political reporter and editor. Mak replied that Daily Beast was banned before HuffPo.

Regardless of who was barred first by the Trump campaign, “real stories about real people affected by real policies” is what journalists need to focus on covering, said Sheppard. Of such stories, she said, “They do tend to cut through the noise that this simple thing that ‘Donald Trump said’ kind of story doesn’t tend to do.”

The Specialized Information Publishers Association hosted the SPJ event, as SIPA’s headquarters in downtown Washington. SIPA, representing newsletter publishers, is part of the Software & Information Industry Association.

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