One of the greatest benefits of being on Hamilton’s D.C. program at this particular point in time is the sense that we are experiencing a distinctive and singular moment in American politics. The uniqueness of this moment is especially obvious to Washington’s journalists. As the relationship between politics and media grows ever more contentious, journalists today face an unprecedented amount of doubt and suspicion.
This week, the Fall 2018 D.C. program students attended a discussion with three Hamilton alumni who now work in media. The panel consisted of journalists Kate Nocera ’05, an editor at Buzzfeed News, Niels Lesniewski ’07, a reporter at Roll Call, and Erik Wemple ’86, a columnist at The Washington Post.
The students peppered the journalists with questions about everything from the increasingly hostile climate surrounding modern journalism to social media’s impact on the way politicians interact with their constituents. Wemple described the state of modern journalism thusly, saying that, “[there is] no longer a good faith trust among readers.” Nocera and Lesniewski agreed, citing the way in which the margin of acceptable error in journalism has shrunk to the point where an issued correction is taken by the public as an admission of intentional misrepresentation.
This, of course, led into a discussion of one of the most ubiquitous terms of the 2016 presidential election (and its fallout)—fake news. In just these last few years, the specter of fake news has become so threatening that Buzzfeed has an entire team dedicated to vetting and defining purposely misleading sources. This can actually be far more difficult than one might expect. According to Lesniewski, one common strategy among fake news websites is to model their homepage after that of a cable news station in order to convince readers of its legitimacy.
The topic later turned to social media and the president’s affinity for Twitter. When asked how President’s Trump unabashed love of the platform impacts the way political reporters do their jobs, Nocera commented on how stressful it can be to have a prolific Tweeter in such a powerful position. By its very nature, a tweet from the American president is almost always newsworthy, and thus needs to be covered.
As the night wound down, the panel began discussing their career origins and advice for the future. Lesniewski recommended parlaying internships and connections into jobs. Nocera advocated for challenging oneself taking time to learn what you want. Wemple, paraphrasing former Hamilton president J. Martin Carovano, left us with one final piece of wisdom: “Hamilton trains you for nothing and prepares you for everything.”