Jef Rouner
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How You Can Save the News in Trump’s America

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It’s a day ending in ‘y’ as I write this, so presumably President Trump has already done some other terrible thing that made us forget the last one. Honestly, being a journalist in this administration is one long DDoS attack. Every time you think you’ve got a handle on things, a new one pops up.

One of the most worrying things, though, is Trump’s relationship with the press. I was actually sitting in the break room of the Houston Press waiting for my paycheck when CNN broke in to say they were being barred from the White House press briefings, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post. It was the latest salvo in Trump’s unprecedented war against the press.

Look, all presidents hate the press to some degree because no matter how good a president is, there are always going to be things that go wrong that the president would dearly love to avoid having in the national spotlight. Trump, though, is doing his best to undermine the very concept of objective reporting, icing out the outlets that have been accurately reporting on his many scandals and errors in favor of alternative media like Breitbart willing to spin his every move into a victory. It’s like living in bloody Animal Farm, and it’s taking its toll on how we perceive media. A Gallup Poll found America’s faith in the news to report accurately has hit an all-time low. The reporting isn’t actually any less accurate from our traditional news institutions. It’s just that our commander-in-chief can’t stop screaming “FAKE” at them like a middle school YouTube commenter.

This is bad, and when applied long-term, it can have dire consequences. A prime component of brainwashing is control of the flow of information, and if that flow is cut off, Trump can quite literally remake America’s reality however he likes until everything is on fire. So what can we do?

First thing is start paying for our news. Newspapers and newsrooms have been in freefall for nearly a decade, and staff reporters are getting fewer and fewer. People leave and aren’t replaced, and those that remain are overworked and usually underpaid. Covering news takes time and effort and resources. Reporters and editors can’t focus on their jobs if they’re worried if they’re going to be able to pay their rent.

So if you do read a paper regularly, even just online, see about becoming a subscriber. The New York Times and Washington Post are great places to start, and you should definitely consider donating to NPR. We have very few public news outlets, and all of them bring us stories that people in power don’t want you to hear.

Aside from the national media outlets, also support your local paper. Free Press Houston and Houston Press don’t take subscriptions, but Houston Chronicle does. Yes, keeping an eye on things in Washington is important, but a lot of national news stories start out local. Someone has to hear about it, go get the facts, and tell you about it. State and city governments need accountability as much as the federal one does, and often they can get away with things because coverage is getting harder and harder to provide.

Even if you can’t support with your wallet, there’s another, even easier way to support local media. You know all those sites you see in your Facebook feed like Think Progress and stuff like that? In most of those stories you’ll see they are simply regurgitating local reporting and giving it an ideological spin to cater to their audience. Cut out the middle man, and link the original story someone actually did the work on. As a bonus, you’ll get an awful lot less “THE BIASED MEDIA!” nonsense when you link to some small paper in Lufkin than, say, US Uncut.

And if you read a story and you found it interesting or informative, consider finding the writer on Facebook or Twitter for a follow. Form a relationship with the people providing you the news. Chances are if they wrote about something you like, they probably write about it more than once. On top of that, many writers, including myself, use our social media circles to source stories. I’ve been on the cover of the Houston Press something like thirteen times, and virtually every one of those had at least one component or subject pulled from Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

People love to ask, “why isn’t anyone covering this?” about their pet issues. Well, tell a reporter. Find someone who writes in the general vein of what you want to see more coverage of and get in touch. Trust me, nothing makes us happier than when a story comes to us and we don’t have to go off on long, resource-consuming wild goose chases. Become active in the narrative. There are way more of you than there are of us, and we can’t report on things we either don’t know about or can’t get anyone to talk to us about.

I understand that people feel like information has gone all gummy and loose, and way too many people are consuming media irresponsibly, getting drunk on wrong. Part of that is because there is less and less reliable media and more and more slanted click-holes feeding off the ones who are left. Truth is hard and expensive, and if we don’t all start investing a little bit more in it, it’s going to go the way of whale oil lamps. When that happens, our “news” may only be what people in power choose to tweet.

And that is a terrifying thought.