Last night Donald Trump stopped in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to meet with the executive committee of the New England Police Benevolent Association, which is considering endorsing him for president of the United States. Leading to his arrival, the staff at the Portsmouth Herald wrote a bold editorial denouncing the candidate’s recent statements regarding Muslims in America.
Since the beginning of his campaign, Trump has been known to make blunt and shocking statements. But more recently, the media has been pushing back, spurring a discussion of how journalists should handle this coverage. Editor Howard Altschiller joined us for a brief Q&A, providing insight on how his team covered a national story on a local scale, and what decisions went into taking a strong editorial stance.
GateHouse Newsroom: How does writing an editorial about Donald Trump differ from writing about less polarizing candidates?
Howard Altschiller: You definitely don’t want to make any errors of fact because you know he’s going to punch back. Because his positions and his rhetoric are so heated I actually toned down our editorial to be sure we focused on his positions and not the man himself. I also made a conscious decision not to compile a list of his many outrageous statements but to focus on the one at hand — his comments about deporting Muslims and his apparent openness to creating a database or registry of Muslims in America.
GHN: Trump has an interesting relationship with the media. Why do you think some news outlets are taking a stronger stance against Trump lately?
HA: I think the media was amused at first and liked the good ratings Trump delivered. The strength of Trump’s candidacy has surprised the media and we all now realize there’s actually a good chance he could be the Republican nominee. So when he takes positions that scapegoat millions of people based solely on their religion, the media rightly has begun to sound a warning.
GHN: What advice do you have for other editorial writers considering covering a big national issue such as this?
HA: Be sure of your facts, focus on the position and not the person. It’s OK to write an editorial while you’re fired up but definitely don’t publish until you’ve read it in a calm mood.
GHN: How will you differentiate your coverage from the onslaught of national media that will also be in town?
HA: This is a local story for us because he’s getting an endorsement from a local police union, speaking to a local audience and the Sheraton Hotel is surrounded by local protesters all sharing their thoughts.
GHN: How are you planning your digital coverage of his visit? How will that differ from print?
HA: We’re using Scribble Live to do a live blog with three reporters and two photographers contributing.
We asked readers how they feel about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country and published their Twitter and Facebook responses in a Storify. Readers offered mixed opinions with more opposed than in favor.
We’ll also have Tout videos, a photo gallery and stories on Trump’s comments and the outside protesters.