Inside Trump - December 27th, 2016

Inside Trump (Dec 27th, 2016)

We'll start publishing actual editions of our Inside Trump newsletter in 2017, but as we continue to prep, wanted to share some of the best suggestions, commentaries and perspectives we've received from readers of our main newsletter, the Inside Daily Brief, about how we should proceed, along with some added commentary from yours truly. We hope it gives you some insight into our process, and a sneak peek at what you'll be able to read about once the newsletter kicks off in earnest. Thanks for reading, and if you have thoughts about how best to cover the Trump Administration, hit REPLY and let us hear from you! – @lons

Most of the feedback we've received about how to publish a Donald Trump newsletter can be divided into a few categories, or center on a few basic questions, which I'll deal with one at a time.
Don't treat Donald Trump any differently than any other president.

Several readers were dubious towards our whole approach, from dedicating a newsletter to Trump, to asking readers how to proceed with covering him in a unique and idiosyncratic way, 

Bill suggests that Trump coverage should be conducted "the same way as you would former presidents, including divisive ones." He goes even further, arguing that we should do "trial write-ups" for other "controversial" presidents as practice. (I might skip this part. It's a holiday week.)

Jim seems to agree, asking (I think rhetorically) if Trump really is different from any other president-elect: "I am imagining that previous presidents did dictate the narrative and determine what is important by the nature of their position. The difference here is that many folks don’t like (or factually wrong or low priority or et al.) what Trump says. Or is there more to it than that?"

Kendrick came at this from a slightly different perspective, urging us to highlight positive aspects of Trump's presidency, and celebrate his successes: "...we need to hold him to everything, every day. Point out every conflict of interest. Every single attempt to blackmail our country into doing something which is against our interests but may help a Trump Tower here or there. Having said that, if he does something well, you should also make a point to highlight that in your newsletter. If you fail to do that, then the conservatives will only sulk in their corner and tune out from Inside. You need to try to be part of an effort to heal the nation’s divide."

For the record: Our plan is to be even-handed towards President Trump, just as we would with any other politician. Discussion about how to approach a newsletter on the subject of his presidency is not an indication we intend to vacate our usual standards of fairness and accuracy.
Do not write an Inside Trump newsletter.

Believe it or not, this was one of the most common suggestions we received. Over a dozen people thought to write us specifically to ask us not to proceed.

Manny sums up this case pretty well: "If anything, Trump is over-covered and it takes away attention and energy from the Trump news that actually warrants our attention. Honestly I don't know what possible justification you guys have for even conceiving such a newsletter but it reeks of the same level of thirstiness that you see of the cable networks who breathlessly run ridiculous Trump tweets instead of actual important news."

Vickie agreed: "Personally, I don't think there should even be a Trump newsletter. He should only be covered when there is something newsworthy and/or presidential or that impacts our nation."

Michael felt the same: "I would like to hear/read nothing from a Trump Newsletter from your staff. There is enough noise out there regrading Trump. Just keep doing your great work with your current newsletters. Pass on the Trump Newsletter."

Dan had some particularly strong words for us: "My only response is don't. Whether you take an opposing view, plan to fact check or just report the news, it will give him more oxygen than he deserves. Just the name Inside Trump is giving him more validity than I think he deserves but I'm not American so I think the whole thing is cringeworthy."

Craig responds with a sentiment that we heard a few times: "Trump turns my stomach and I’m not sure I want to wallow in his sty…"
Report only on what Trump does, not what he says.

This was one of the strategies I had originally outlined when we first started discussing a Trump newsletter. (It addresses the common argument that Trump uses Twitter, speeches/rallies and other rhetorical devices primarily to distract the public.)

Several people chimed in to agree with this basic approach. It was the most popular of any of the potential strategies under consideration that I had laid out.

Shawn writes: "It’s important to follow what the president-elect is doing. Not so much what he is saying. Best way to remain neutral IMO."

Douglas adds: "Hearing what he says is the easy part. Everyone will be repeating it. How can we make informed decisions on how to react if we don't know what he is actually doing?"

Matt, a bit more disaffected than some of the other respondents, agreed: "I feel like I can't trust what Donald Trump says. Over the last 8 months, I've heard him contradict himself. I've heard him say things that are too extreme so that his actual ideas sound reasonable, by comparison. He's said things that are irrelevant. For these reasons, I'd love a mute button for Donald Trump. But he's still going to be my President, so I'm interested in what he actually DOES."
Track Trump campaign promises vs. action while in office.

This was another commonly suggested take on a Trump daily.

Though many argued this should be the entire newsletter, I fear that would feel incomplete to most. Many things happen during a presidency that demand action, but couldn't have been specifically foreseen during the campaign. You have to allow for the unexpected in a project like this, I think.

Gabriel, though, has a very logical approach: "I'd actually dig a little blurb at the end of all Trump newsletters that has the bulletin points of what he said he'd do (the wall, stripping ACA, jailing Clinton) and any brief (or unbrief) newsworthy items in each of their respective areas."

I'm not sure you could really track all of Trump's campaign promises so closely every issue (there were many), but I could see this working on a bit of a smaller scale.

Darryl shares some of my skepticism towards this philosophy, but goes a bit further, having soured on "tracking campaign promises" from experience: "Back in a prior life, the local fish-wrapper published a list of Bill Clinton's campaign promises and pledges. Gleefully, I hung the list on the refrigerator door and just as gleefully crossed each item off as the pledge or promise was broken. Before long, I tired of the game and wadded the whole mess up and threw it away. NPR has recently published an equivalent list and, once again, I've posted it on the refrigerator door. Wonder if the Donald will make out any better than Billy Boy did."

John takes a fascinatingly contrary perspective, arguing that presidents shouldn't be judged on breaking old promises or changing their minds. He proposes: "let’s try to remove the stigma that it is bad to have a president change their mind. It isn’t bad that president Obama was originally against gay marriage and then later in office fixed his opinion. That might be worth reporting but not with the stigma that change is bad. Sometimes when someone changes their mind, they go in the right direction. I’d hope our leaders would change their minds more often to get things right."
Set the agenda ourselves (that is, decide what's important to report about) and then cover Trump's action or inaction on those issues specifically.

Most people who wrote us talked about how we should use language to discuss Trump and his activities, in terms of basic fairness/bias or fact-checking or what have you. But very few really engaged with what I think is maybe the MORE challenging decision, which is how to decide what to write about in the first place. Do you let a President Trump decide what issues are going to be discussed and debated publicly?

Adam suggests we completely ignore the president's own speeches or statements, and just write about how he reacts to the main news we're covering already on Inside: "Use the regularly produced Inside newsletter topics for the day then highlight the POTUS's or his administration's reaction or lack of reaction to those things. Inside is able to dictate the narrative while getting his view, opinion, or reaction to it."

Andre has a similar proposal: "Every week, we pick a particular issue – say, immigration – and write ‪500-1000‬ words covering everything Trump has said on the topic, how his comments have evolved over time, what actions he’s taken, what his relevant appointments have said and done on the topic, what relevant people outside the administration have said and done, and any data on changes that are occurring..."

Ankur also thinks we should set the agenda, but not based on the stories Inside is already covering. He wants to be a bit more scientific about it: "Perhaps segment the population first into 3-5 groups, and then pick the top 3 metrics that each segment most cares about? Look for data retroactively for the last 8-16 years on those metrics so establish history, and then report unbiasedly on each of the Trump administration’s decisions likely to positively or negatively impact our set of 10-15 metrics. Opine and project potential impact - who knows, maybe some of the editorial will impact true change for the better?"

I like this idea, but I fear it gets pretty far away from what most people would expect from a newsletter reporting on the president. This is a much more subjective "here's what we think Trump should be focused on" experience, rather than the more conventional "here's the news you need for today!" promise typically implied by Inside newsletters.

Dan makes the case that Trump HAS no positions or agenda, leaving a vacuum that we'd have to fill ourselves: "I don't think he really has a POV on things. He doesn't have a set of beliefs. He has no compass. So isn't the premise void - when you report on the evolution you imply that it's more than what it is. You implicitly participate in the charade."
Relentlessly fact check.

Despite my voiced concerns about allowing a President Trump to set the agenda for our newsletter, by following up on and fact checking everything he says and tweets, some readers still advanced this as their preferred option. 

Gale writes: "I think doing a fact check on what Trump says is extremely important. I agree that much of his teenage rhetoric is not newsworthy and should not be repeated. But as a former CNN addict, I now watch way more Andy Griffith (Mayberry) than CNN. I just can't stomach the lies that come out of the surrogates and the idea that CNN just allows them to speak without correcting them."

Jesse agreed, making the case that Trump's statements and actions are indistinguishable: "When he says something, he is also doing something, so in some regard, that should be covered. If this is in contrast with what he’s said in the past, that’s notable."
Use numbers and metrics rather than more qualitative statements and judgements.

Reader Teilo made a bold suggestion, that rather than digging in to everything President Trump says or does, we reduce it to just numbers or charts. His example:

Week / ptd presidency to date 
- inaccurate statements. 6 / 213
- lies / contradictions 12 / 109
- factually correct 2 / 100
- policy statements 1 / 49

This is certainly an interesting, outside-the-box approach, but I fear it sets up a new set of problems. How do you decide what to numerically track? Isn't it asking readers to really trust you to just give numbers and not detail? How do THEY know those 6 statements were TRULY inaccurate? 
Focus on offbeat or unconventional sources.

Hank writes that any approach should avoid linking to major, mainstream news sources (singling out the New York Times specifically), and instead scan the web for "essays from unusual sources that bring out issues and points that are not considered by daily media." More like a "ReadThisThing" newsletter, but zeroed in on Trump. 

In general, I like this approach, but I also fear we'd be criticized as overly narrow, and not taking in the full scope of important actions and issues surrounding the Trump Administration.
Make predictions about what Trump will do and then follow up to discuss how we did.

We only received this suggestion from one reader, Andy, but it was so bold (and kind of aggressive!) that I'm including it anyway: "If you insist on political commentary, how about putting some skin in the game? Make testable predictions and commit to revisiting them in 6-12 months to see how you did."

My response would be that we're not really insisting on political commentary, specifically. This newsletter would be VERY different if the writers were going to speak exclusively about their personal feelings towards Donald Trump. We're more asking for how to approach the topic of reporting on him, not commenting on him.

I'd also fully admit to not having expert prognostication skills. I don't think the ability to actually foresee what will happen is going to be a pre-requisite here. But if predictions are what the public demands... we can make some. Sure.
We're planning to release an early version of the next issue in a Google Doc to collect feedback from some VIP subscribers. If you would like to be included in this, click here.
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