How local journalists are facing the media’s hostile environment

Douglas Burns, a fourth-generation journalist, is co-owner of the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa, a newspaper that has been in his family since 1929. He writes a regular column, “Taking Note,” for the Times Herald editorial page, and he has covered politics in the Midwest since the late ’80s, with a focus on rural issues. He’s a fixture in his community.

None of that seemed to matter last October, when Burns arrived at a Trump rally in Council Bluffs, about two hours southwest of Carroll. Burns was there to report on an ethanol-use announcement of particular concern to farmers, and yet he was treated as if he had ulterior motives. Along with other reporters, he was locked in a media pen at the back of the arena and forbidden to speak to members of the crowd, many of whom he knew. Burns couldn’t use the bathroom without an invigilator from Trump’s team following along to make sure he didn’t interact with anyone. “It was like visiting hours in a prison,” Burns, 49, tells me.

His demoralizing experience was just one of a number of instances during the midterms and beyond in which local reporters with longstanding community ties were shunned, spurned, harassed, and otherwise treated with disdain by elected officials. As President Trump’s press bashing continues unabated, such incidents seem to suggest his example is being taken up at the local level.

“Local journalists seem to be vilified now,” Kevin Goldberg, an attorney who serves as legal counsel to the American Society of News Editors, says. “Whether it’s federal officials outside of DC or it’s actually state or local officials, I feel like people are more emboldened to act against journalists.”  (Read more…)