A dangerous anti-press mix

“It’s not enough for people to read the news. They have to trust it.”

In 2017, the press will have to confront a president and a public that are dangerously hostile to it.

peter-sternePresident Obama has not been a friend to national security journalists. His administration has used grand jury subpoenas to force reporters to reveal their confidential sources. And it’s used the Espionage Act, a vague 1917 law that criminalizes sharing sensitive national security info, to jail reporters’ sources.

But Obama at least paid lip service to the importance of press freedom. He held regular press conferences, sat down with reporters for one-on-one interviews, and publicly praised investigative journalism.

Compare that to the president-elect. Trump made insulting journalists a staple of his campaign rallies, threatened to sue news organizations for reporting true stories that were critical of him, and refused to issue press credentials to reporters who had written things that he did not like.

Combine the Obama administration’s legal precedent with Trump’s disdain for the press and you’ve got a dangerous mix.

Trump and his choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, will likely to increase the number of subpoenas and leak prosecutions. They might even go a step further and try to indict reporters under the Espionage Act. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, has already said that New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet “should be in jail.”

Such heavy-handed repression of journalists might inspire public outcry against Trump. Or it might not. Right now, much of the public shares the president-elect’s disdain for journalists.

A nasty, polarized campaign filled with competing charges of media bias has soured the press in the eyes of many people on both left and right. These people won’t stop reading and watching mainstream news sources, but they will have less trust in them. That will make it harder for mainstream journalists to win sympathy if Trump tries to crush them.

It will also make it tougher to debunk conspiracy theories spread by fake news sites. Someone might read The New York Times, but that doesn’t mean they’ll trust the Times when the paper debunks conspiracy theories or fact-checks politicians.

It’s not enough for people to read the news. They have to trust it.

Public distrust of the press will also make it easier for celebrities and billionaires to silence media companies that they don’t like. The Supreme Court’s 1964 ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan made it difficult for public figures to win libel cases against journalists. Even when a jury finds in favor of a public figure, those verdicts are usually reversed on appeal. But plaintiffs don’t have to win cases in order to make life difficult for media companies. Legal bills aren’t cheap. A sufficiently motivated billionaire can easily fund enough frivolous lawsuits to bankrupt a small media organization.

Invasion-of-privacy suits are even more dangerous for news organizations, since truth isn’t a defense. Journalists can publish accurate stories and still be found liable for invading someone’s privacy. A jury that identifies more with celebrities than journalists is less likely to accept high-minded First Amendment arguments about newsworthiness and the public’s right to know.

In 2017, journalists will face attacks on all fronts. They’ll need to defend their First Amendment rights in court while keeping the public informed about the Trump’s administration’s activities. They’ll need to remind the American people why a free press is important.

Peter Sterne covers media for Politico.

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Trushar Barot   API or die

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism