To be a young journalist during Donald Trump’s rise meant reckoning with our profession, its assumptions, and its flaws. In 2016, Rob was a cub newspaper reporter, and Will was a college senior contemplating a career in journalism. We watched mainstream writers and editors we respected failing to meet the moment. They treated Trump as a curiosity and the 2016 presidential race as sport. Worse still, they amplified Trump. When Trump won, many media outlets bent over backward to explain his supporters’ rage as “economic anxiety.” It only increased the helplessness we felt. How could we—and the country—cope with something so unprecedented using the old formulas?
We found answers at the Washington Monthly, which for decades has avoided the both-sidesist notions of objectivity and the horse-race reporting that enabled Trump. Instead, the Monthly has focused on policies to make government work. It’s been empowering to contribute to an institution that has championed the spread of vote by mail, spurred anti-monopoly action, and resolutely looked beyond the churn of the news cycle—work that has always relied on your support.
Each of us took our own path to get here. From Will, who was a senior at Tufts University during the campaign:
I was the news editor of the campus magazine in fall 2016. Before Election Day, I marveled that Lester Holt, moderating a debate a few days prior, had finally addressed the elephant in the room: Would the candidates respect the outcome of the election? “In all likelihood, Trump will lose on November 8,” I wrote—reassurances of this were everywhere in the media—“but that a man with such patently authoritarian tendencies has been so popular is a bad sign for American democracy.” Holt’s question was a rare acknowledgment of this. The mainstream media had instead spent months presenting Trump like a normal candidate, and this like a normal election. But on November 8, the impossible happened. How had traditional outlets gotten it so wrong? How had trust in institutions worn so thin? How might democracy course-correct? I wanted answers. At the Monthly, I’ve found a commitment to explaining the history that led us here—and fierce advocacy for a program that can strengthen democracy.
From Rob, then a fledgling reporter in rural New Hampshire:
I was working for a small newspaper the day Trump came to town, in January 2016. Covering that rally and the wider election, I’ll never forget the ugliness he unleashed and the way traditional outlets tied their own hands while chronicling it. Confined to a metal pen in the back, reporters watched as Trump ran through his racist diatribe—stopping to encourage the crowd to boo the media—and then dutifully translated his ramblings into bite-size, coherent quotes, shaping him into something resembling a traditional candidate. A few months later, the newsroom gathered around an ancient TV for Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. I couldn’t bear to watch. But my editor—seasoned, shrewd, a veteran of countless campaigns whom I still respect—told me everything would be all right: These things run in cycles, he said. In the years to come, other wise heads offered similar assurances, even as Trump violated every norm. Meanwhile, I felt handicapped by the traditional deference of newspapers, unable to tell readers what was really happening. It wasn’t until 2021 that I left that world for the Monthly and discovered that there had been another approach all along.
Since 1969, the Washington Monthly has eschewed the journalistic traditions that helped land us in our democratic crisis—the false equivalences, the need to be “first,” the inability to call a lie a lie. Instead, the Monthly looks for policy solutions that work. Along the way, it has trained generations of young journalists who have carried that spirit with them to outlets such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Wired, and The New York Times.
Both of us have been proud to contribute to that tradition as editors at the Monthly. This fall, months before the Washington, D.C., initiative to eliminate the tipped minimum wage succeeded at the polls, Will identified it as a movement on the rise. Last spring, as state attorneys general launched a series of anti-monopoly lawsuits against the tech giants, Rob was there to chronicle it. Two young journalists, doing the work that needs to be done.
We would be honored to continue that work with your help. If you value solutions-focused policy journalism that looks beyond the daily headlines, please donate to the Monthly today.