Discussions among many reporters and editors these days involve normalization.
They don’t always use that exact word. But bear with me a minute.
They’re discussing how their coverage of the Trump transition, and then of his new administration, should differ from their traditional approaches.
It’s not easy to ferret-out from individual reporters and editors their in-house deliberations of how their news practices might adapt to this “new normal.” Journalists are about as close-mouthed about their own inner-deliberations as they fault their sources for being about their own.
Writing on December 16, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, alluded to this development. Reading the daily news since the November elections makes one feel “This has got to be an issue of The Onion,” he wrote. “While so much of the media, in ways subtle and broad, attempts to normalize the Trump ascendancy, while we are told that patriotism demands that we accept Trump and ‘give him a chance,’ the President-elect acts in ways that leave even dystopian satire behind.”
The word “normal” and the offshoot “normalization” have gotten their share of votes from various dictionaries and linguists as “the word of the year.”
“When people are talking a lot about normal it’s a sign that we’re living in extraordinary times,” UC Berkeley linguist Geoff Nunberg noted recently on NPR.
Unlike Nunberg, Merriam-Webster opted for “surreal,” and the Oxford Dictionary for “post-truth.” See a trend here?
That those discussions are taking place at all is an indication that the news media and many others don’t see things as “normal.”
These are real tensions among serious journalists (yes, there still are some). And they’re not likely to be decided consistently from one news outlet to another. There’s no rule book for this kind of thing, no style guide to inform their judgments.
On the one hand, some advocate simply giving the incoming President “a chance,” as if there were some real alternative. Others lean toward a traditional approach of providing “balance”: Trump’s approach on the one hand, and a competing perspective – whether from a Democrat, an environmentalist, a scientist, whatever – on the other. Many will agree that approach hasn’t always led to the best journalism, as with reports seeking “balance” or “equal time” when it comes to climate evidence.
But where does that leave things? Some appear inclined to portray the new administration, for instance from the standpoint of climate science and perhaps science more broadly, as an existential threat, as turning things upside-down, much as Trump himself did in his campaign against more conventional candidates. Columnists and opinion writers may well find that approach comfortable. But how it fits into straight news reporting is a bit more problematic.
How this all works out is not one of those deadline-driven issues that the media are accustomed to dealing with. Far from it. There’s not likely to soon be an “answer,” even within individual newsrooms and outlets, let alone among “the media” generally. Rather, the different nuances of news outlets’ approaches are likely to emerge incrementally and over time.
It won’t be pretty, and it’s unlikely to draw rave reviews from either backers or detractors of Trump and his administration.
Where it lands, as the roulette saying goes, nobody knows. But the one forecast that appears safe is that none of this will be “normal.” Not by a long shot.