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When ‘trickle down’ goes beyond economics

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by Stan Zoller, MJE
In recent history, the idea of “trickledown economics” is something attributed to the late Ronald Reagan, who occupied the White House from 1981 to 1989. 

However, the roots of a “trickle down” policy allegedly had its roots planted by the late humorist Will Rogers who reportedly referred to the theory that cutting taxes for higher earners and businesses was a “trickle down” policy.

While “trickle down” has seemingly been, as noted, associated with economics, recent actions by the White House press office, specifically White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, should be a concern to journalism educators.

The concern, maybe best called a fear, is that “trickle-down media control” could filter down to educational administrators, including department chairs, building administrators, district administrators and school boards.

Media reports by the Columbia Journalism Review White House revokes…and Mediaite.org White House press corps forced to walk on eggshellsindicate that Huckabee-Sanders appears to be revoking press credentials of individual reporters if she, or more directly, President Trump, does not like what is being written.

 Preposterous?

You would think so. However, how many scholastic media advisers have bemoaned the fate of a piece written by a student journalist because an administrator took exception to it for some reason? The unfortunate reality is that it’s not unusual for these objections to be buoyed in the fact that the story “doesn’t make the school look good” or “it makes the principal look bad.”

The hope is, of course, that the work done by any journalist, whether student or pro, is anchored by multiple sources, solid reporting and verification – or quite simply fundamental journalism. Unfortunately, the mindset of some folks is to mimic the POTUS when it comes to media coverage not seeped in cheerleading by calling it ‘fake news.’

A challenging problem to say the least.

So how can journalism educators plan for this? They can’t. While you may be able to anticipatea reaction to a story, it may be hard to plan for the actionstemming from the reaction.

The logical course of events is to seek outside support. While journalism education colleagues may offer solace, they may not offer solutions. Logically, the next step is to use the ‘panic button’ on the JEA Scholastic Press Right Commission’s web site SPRC Panic Buttonand contact the Student Press Law Center SPLC.ORG.

Needless to say, both are outstanding options. 

But here’s a challenge – what can be done to plan for a response mired in the possible mindset that “well, this is what the White House does”?

In addition to teaching fundamentals of journalism, using various media and social media platforms, journalism educators should include daily monitoring of media news and media trends. This can be an excellent exercise for advanced journalism classes where its enrollment includes editorial leaders of student media.

Students should be encouraged, if not required, to subscribe to or monitor organizations that monitor media trends and activity. Some sites to consider are The American Press Institute, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Pew Research Center’s Media Trends sectionand the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. There are others, but these offer a solid foundation on which to start.

Beyond just following organizations, advanced students should be expected, or again, required, to report on a regular basis news and information to not only their teacher, but the entire staff of a student media on a regular basis because it’s imperative that the entire staff knows what current trends are in the media.

Because ‘trickle down’ is not selective; it affects everyone.

 And when the media is targeted, there needs to be strength in numbers.

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