The Trump Effect: The Stories That Aren’t Being Published
June 6, 2018
Max Whittaker photographed three brothers who had been placed in different foster homes. Here, Brothers Terrick and Matt (right) play video games with friends, all former foster youth, who serve as a mutual support system.
Tatiana Evans comforts her boyfriend, Terrick Bakhit, a former foster child and one of the subjects of Whittaker's story.
For “Her America,” Alice Proujansky photographed a midwife who wanted to document her own labor and the birth of her second child.
A few weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker and other news publications reported they had seen their subscriptions increase between 50 and 300 percent, and nonprofit journalism organizations such as ProPublica and NPR saw a spike in donations.
While the so-called “Trump Bump” has brought new revenues to some media outlets, many editors and journalists say that certain types of news coverage have been squeezed out by the enormous amount of coverage given to Trump administration policies, scandals, indictments and the resulting outrage. President Trump was the subject of 41 percent of news reports in his first 100 days in office, according to a journalism research center that studied national and international newspapers and the newscasts on the biggest networks. The trend continues, and Columbia Journalism Review reported earlier this year that one consequence of all this Trump-related coverage has been an accelerated decline in foreign news reporting. In addition, fewer stories on social and economic issues are being assigned, and freelancers like photographer Max Whittaker say their stories on economic inequality or criminal justice take longer to get published. “To be clear, I have no idea what’s happening behind the scenes,” says Whittaker, “but I envision editors waiting for a slow Trump news day that never comes.”
For some perspective, we asked three editors at organizations that support independent reporting and photojournalism to tell us which stories are hard to place, how the current news cycle affects the selection of stories and which issues are most under-covered. Here’s what they told PDN.
I have heard from grantees who are reporting on humanitarian crises like South Sudan that unless there was a direct U.S., even Trump, angle, editors told them they wouldn’t run it. Of course there are still a number of outlets [that] are eager for under-reported international stories, it just becomes harder and harder to justify the costs, which is where the Pulitzer Center comes in…
And the decline in international reporting is definitely not just a new phenomenon. When we started the Center in 2006, it was a response to a marketplace that was no longer able to support foreign bureaus and in-depth reporting trips (this was true for investigative [reporting] as well.) Basically anything that cost a lot of money but that wasn’t necessarily going to be the most popular became harder to justify. That is now amplified by the constant news cycle we have with Trump. But that trend apparently started under Obama…. Americans do not have a long history of following international issues in the same way people do in Europe, or most of the rest of the world. But we’re also not learning about global affairs when we’re kids so it’s logical that as adults we don’t have an appetite for those kinds of stories….
Solid reporting from inside North Korea is hard to do but is vital. Evan Osnos and [photographer] Max Pinckers did a great job with that for The New Yorker.
In terms of specific crises that have not received the attention they deserve: Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Congo, Syria and I would say even the Rohingya, given the gravity of the situation.
I think one topic that gets less attention than it should is juvenile justice. The Marshall Project recently published a story about New York jails that put teens in solitary confinement, and I would like to see more stories done on this subject. A few non-profits have also reported that budget cuts in New York may threaten a program that allows juveniles to stay in small group homes closer to their communities as opposed to incarcerating them. I haven’t seen it widely reported in the media.
I would also like to see more stories about the foster care to juvenile detention pipeline. Max Whittaker did a great story with the Chronicle for Social Change, and then with The Marshall Project, about brothers who had three different paths out of foster care.
Separately, I would like to see more stories written and photographed by people who have been formerly incarcerated. The Marshall Project’s “Life Inside” feature attempts to do that through writing and illustration. The prison system is unfortunately frequently opaque and it is difficult to get access to the spaces, which we need to report on. I think that has something to do with why the stories are not often covered. Andrew Spear did a great job covering a program in Indiana Women’s Prison which allows the inmates to build the houses which they would then own.
Trump coverage is foremost, always, and it is sickening, but I actually think that Trump-related or inspired coverage–a.k.a. anti-Trump—is new and necessary and was not around before. I’m thinking of the stories or packages about women that would have never been given the time or space before. For the last eight months, I was working on a special editorial project, “Her America,” a digital project created by Lifetime/A+E Networks, in an effort to connect with a wider audience than the TV viewership and share stories about what matters to American women today. After the project launched, Lifetime connected with local papers to highlight some of the women featured in the project in their home towns….I hired 19 women photographers. [See Natalie Keyssar’s work on “Her America,” selected for the PDN Photo Annual 2018.]
TIME did its “Firsts: Women Who are Changing the World” project, New York magazine did its road trip with real women [“43-Day Fashion Road Trip,” photographed by Holly Andres].
With criminal justice, I also feel like big exposes are coming out, but I can imagine that smaller stories are not getting the space… so I’m looking for [them] and I’m putting [them] out on [the Instagram feed] @EverydayIncarceration, which is my own thing and not dependent on news.