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a graphic of people standing at debate podiums with a cluster of journalists in front of themThe Unique Challenges of Reporting on the 2024 Election

6 pm ET
Thursday, Feb. 22 

The livestream will be available to watch here.

About the Event

The 2024 election is shaping to be one of the most unusual races in American history – likely coming down to a choice between two candidates above or approaching the age of 80, both of whom have previously served as President of the United States, each with strikingly different visions of the state of American culture and society and where it should head downstream. Both presumptive candidates are deeply unpopular.

One of the candidates, Donald Trump, has consistently sought to cast doubt on electoral outcomes that do not go his way. In the wake of the 2020 election, these claims inspired a riot at the U.S. Capitol building that resulted in him becoming the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice during his tenure. His alleged efforts to delegitimize and overturn the electoral results have also led to a number of civil and criminal investigations against the former (and perhaps future) president – hearings that are poised to continue throughout the 2024 election cycle. 

Meanwhile, Americans are deeply mistrustful of one-another and of most institutions, including academia and the press.

These dynamics create a number of profound and, arguably, unprecedented challenges in reporting on the 2024 U.S. Presidential Election.

On February 22, 2024, the School of Communication at Stony Brook University will convene a prolific panel of editors, journalists and media scholars to explore these challenges and how to overcome them. Some possible questions and topics of conversation include:

  • What lessons were learned (or not) from the 2016 and 2020 cycles? How, or to what extent, should the media approach be different in 2024 than in previous cycles? 
  • Should journalists attempt to censor or restrict the circulation of false, misleading or inflammatory remarks made by politicians, or do they have a duty to present viewers with what candidates are saying irrespective of their perceived danger or truth value?
  • To the extent that reporting “the facts” often entails challenging false or misleading claims, how can journalists make sure they are doing this in a consistent way, rather than, perhaps, focusing intensely on bombastic falsehoods by Trump, potentially at the expense of holding Democratic leaders to account? 
  • To the extent that reporters view it as an important fact of this election that one party seems to be flouting democratic rules and norms, and potentially poses an existential threat to American democracy as they understand it, how can they talk about that without reinforcing perceptions of bias, without engaging in hyperbole, and while being mindful of their own fallibility and potential biases and limitations? 
  • To the extent that there are genuine and important asymmetries between the parties, is it inappropriate for the media to adopt a "both sides" approach or seek a midpoint between the parties? After all, the argument goes, if one side is extreme, and the other is moderate, the mean point between them would not land you in the middle of the spectrum overall, it'd place journalists closer to the direction of the extreme party. Is this a problem that media are facing this cycle? Or might the perception that media face this problem, itself, a product of bias among knowledge economy professionals? 
  • Do journalists, scholars and other stakeholders have a moral or existential stake in being part of the #Resistance against Trump and his imitators? Or should they just report the facts and try to approximate neutrality even if that might increase the chances that the candidate they disfavor retakes the White House? 
  • Given that Trump is hostile to journalists, sows antipathy towards and sometimes threats against journalists, and has suggested he may crack down on journalistic access and freedom if he wins re-election, should journalists just treat him like any other candidate? Or should they place themselves in opposition to him because he poses an apparent threat to the profession? Would rendering themselves as partisans against Trump also threaten the profession in perhaps even more damaging ways (given already low levels of trust and high perceptions of bias)? How can journalists and media organizations effectively think about and navigate these risks?
  • Given that Trump has been a cash cow for media organizations and a core driver of media engagement, do media companies have an implicit financial stake in seeing him re-elected (in an era of declining audiences, revenues and jobs for traditional media outlets)? Do financial considerations influence media coverage in any way? Should they? 
  • How can media outlets better balance the desire to drive clicks and engagement (which keeps the lights on, allows them to increase staff, avoid layoffs, etc.) and the need to be responsible actors in our democracy (for instance, by not leaning into negative, inflammatory or polarizing stories and framing which often increase engagement but may be bad for America’s civic health)?
  • How can the media earn trust from the growing numbers of Americans who are sociologically, morally and politically distant from the typical journalist, and whose faith in journalism has been consistently and rapidly eroding?

 

 

 

About the Speakers

James Bennet

James BennetJames Bennet began his journalism career as an intern for The News & Observer and the New Republic before becoming an editor at The Washington Monthly. In 1991, Bennet joined the New York Times as a reporter at the Metro desk. He went on to serve as a White House correspondent and as the paper’s Bureau Chief in Detroit and, later, Jerusalem. In 2006, he left the Times and became Editor-in-Chief at The Atlantic, where he helped dramatically increase readership and profitability. In 2016, he returned to The Times to head up the Editorial Page, where he helped produce multiple Pulitzer Prize winning essays and significantly increased the diversity of perspectives and reader engagement for the Opinion section. In 2020, Bennet departed The Times. He currently serves as a senior editor at The Economist, and he’s the first American writer for The Economist’s Lexington column.

Jane Coaston

Jane CoastonJane Coaston began her journalistic career writing for right-aligned college media outlets, and has since embarked on a fascinating personal and professional journey, helping Americans understand one-another across political, ideological and cultural divides. Upon graduation, Coaston worked as a political reporter for MTV News and, later, as a senior political reporter for Vox Media. She is currently a contributing opinion writer at the New York Times and an incoming fellow at the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future. She previously served as a resident fellow at University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. In addition to transcending many social boundaries, Coaston’s reporting crosses multiple formats. Alongside her writing, Coaston has hosted a number of influential and highly original podcasts including The Stakes at MTV News, The Weeds at Vox, and The Argument at New York Times. Moreover, augmenting her prolific reporting with MTV News, Vox and The Times, additional work by Coaston has been published by MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, NPR, The Ringer, Buzzfeed, The Washington Post, ESPN Magazine, National Review and beyond. She was recently named a new on-air commentator for CNN.

Matthew Yglesias

Matthew YglesiasMatthew Yglesias was a pioneer in blogging during the early 2000’s. He went on to serve as a fellow at The American Prospect and then a staff writer at The Atlantic, ThinkProgress and, later, Slate. In 2014, Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell co-founded Vox Media. It’s flagship publication, Vox, distinguished itself by producing “explainers” that helped non-specialists understand complex issues in a concise, compelling and accessible manner. In 2015, Yglesias interviewed then-president Barack Obama. He is reportedly one of the 5 most followed political writers among Biden Administration officials as well. In 2020, Yglesias departed from Vox and launched a new blog on Substack, Slow Boring. In spite of adverse trends in journalism writ large, Yglesias’ new venture has amassed more than 120,000 subscribers to date, generates more than $1 million of revenue per year, and employs a growing staff. Yglesias is also the author of multiple books, most recently One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger(Portfolio, 2020).