I found myself agreeing with both sides, and wondering why. Then it struck me that much of the problem—perhaps its root—lies in the mixed public-private nature of the conversations journalists tend to have on Twitter and Facebook. A typical journalist might have anywhere from 100 to 50,000 followers. The journalist might actually know one or two thousand of those followers; a few hundred will be fellow journalists or friends. On a social level, it’s perfectly natural—and hard to fault—that a journalist would share with those friends and colleagues an initial response, anywhere from amazed to dismayed, to Trump’s latest social-media blast.
But amid this banter, it’s easy for that journalist to forget that any journalist on Twitter or Facebook is not just sharing but defining the news—identifying and framing, for a public with limited time and attention, the day’s most salient and consequential stories. And if a journalist’s reactions to Trump’s latest eruption suggest that the day’s top story is Trump’s outburst about flag burners or the vote count—rather than his nomination of a savvy, fiercely determined cabinet member whose agenda will reshape the country’s health-care, civil rights, or economy—then the journalist has failed at his or her job.
I’m not sure how to untangle this Gordian knot. No journalist wants to be Trump’s fool —nor a Trumpsplaining egghead. But we need to do better.