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April 25, 2024

How New York Times plans to cover Donald Trump’s third presidential campaign

Executive editor Joseph Kahn also addressed dealing with fact NYT may publish views its journalists disagree with.

By Charlotte Tobitt

New York Times executive editor Joseph Kahn has said covering Donald Trump is a challenge that requires a balance between sharing his statements, even when they are false, and contextualising but not censoring them.

Speaking at the INMA World Congress of News Media in London on Wednesday, Kahn said covering Trump is a “particular challenge” and it takes a “certain skill” to write about him.

“Our view is that when you have a candidate who does frequently indulge in conspiracy theories or depart from the facts and can hold an audience captive with long kind of soliloquies that actually don’t contain real information in them, we have to do more than just provide a platform for that,” Kahn, who took on the top editorial job at The New York Times in June 2022 and was managing editor during Trump’s presidency, said.

“On the other hand, we do need to cover what he’s saying. We need to cover what he’s putting on Truth Social, we need to cover how he entertains or tries to enliven his audiences at his rallies, we need to give people a full sense of that. So I think you need to write about it with a certain skill.

“People need to basically have some version of fact checking in real time… But the idea that we’d stop covering Trump, or because Trump provides misinformation we should just not give people a sense of how those rallies are going or what he’s putting on his platform Truth Social, I think in some ways actually takes him too much out of the news cycle.”

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It has been an unusual start to the US presidential election cycle, Kahn said, because both Trump and incumbent Joe Biden had their party nominations secured early.

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This means, he said, the media needs to “find good, intelligent ways of scrutinising both, and getting those into the news cycle regularly so people have a full sense of what they’re voting for.

“So I think actually, the problem at the moment is not giving Donald Trump a platform to say whatever he wants, it’s making sure that we give people a full sense of who he is, in some cases the conspiracy theories that he’s indulging and putting forward, a full sort of fact-checked version of what he’s posting on Truth Social which is mobilising his audience day in and day out.

“We have a responsibility to help people, to guide people through that.”

The New York Times recently had its credibility score downgraded by rating agency Newsguard because, the company said, “its derision of Trump courses through basic news stories”.

Why ‘both sides’ journalism amounts to a ‘lack of knowledge’

Kahn said The New York Times does not practice “both sides” journalism.

“Typically, when people say both sides, what they mean is ‘we don’t actually do the journalistic work involved of helping the reader to see what’s true and what’s not true’. And that’s not the way that we approach a story.”

He said: “We are helping people to understand the world through as much of a well-rounded report as we possibly can, and putting the information and also the perspectives in the hands of our readers, and helping them make the best decisions. So we’re not partisan, but that’s not the same thing as saying that we just have an equivalent view of misinformation and real information, because we don’t.”

New York Times staff must ‘sign up for a journalistic mission’

Kahn also addressed how rows within the newsroom can flare up because of disagreements in viewpoints among The New York Times’s 2,000 journalists.

He said The New York Times is “not a platform for people to express their personal values. We have to require that they sign up for a journalistic mission. And the journalistic mission does require that you put facts ahead of your own personal views. And that’s not intuitive to a lot of people.

“I think we just have to acknowledge that people tend not to be taught that in college. To be honest with you, I’m afraid they’re not really taught that in journalism school, either.” The newsbrand therefore has to build that culture internally instead, he added.

“I think good journalists are open to it, including young journalists, but it is not a skill set that comes automatically or organically,” he said.

“And basically… we’re not requiring that people leave their experience behind. We’re not requiring that people stop having the ethnic or racial identity that they grew up with, we’re not requiring that they get rid of family members or friends who have certain views, we’re not requiring that they change their personal values. Those are all things which are specific to individuals and we acknowledge that everybody has those things in their background.

“What we are requiring is that they come to work at The New York Times, that they are committed to being part of an organisation that will frequently do journalism on subjects which they personally don’t consider to be fully aligned with their own personal desires or values.

“We will write about things – on our opinion pages we will host guest essays from people who are not your favourite, necessarily. In our news pages, we will explore issues in detail that look at issues around the world from the perspective of people who are not necessarily those who you would choose to go have a beer with, right. And that’s part of being at a news organisation and you have to want to be part of an independent news organisation that is exploring all those issues and, on occasion, upsetting you.”

Kahn said he welcomes journalists raising disagreements with how a story has been covered internally, even at large internal town hall meetings – but he is against them sharing those concerns publicly.

“Criticism, listening to a variety of perspectives, encouraging debate in the newsroom have to be part of a healthy newsroom. Taking to broadcast social media channels to undermine your colleagues should not be.”

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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