Former Times Editor Weighs in on 2016 Elections Coverage

Jill E. Abramson ’76, the former executive editor of The New York Times and lecturer in the English Department, lamented the lack of in-depth investigative reporting this election cycle in front of a packed roundtable at the Harvard Kennedy School on Wednesday.

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School brought the veteran journalist to speak as part of a three-part speaker series on the state of election coverage.

“I just am frustrated because I think accountability journalism, that holds the government accountable, is why the Constitution made the First Amendment first,” Abramson said. “Journalists have a very protected place in our society, and giving the highest quality information to the voters is the most important thing we do every four years.”

Abramson said when she tried to find exemplary profiles of this year’s candidates for her journalism class—English Cijr: "Introduction to Journalism"—to study, she was unable to find any articles she deemed satisfactory on Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, and struggled to find one on Republican Donald J. Trump.

“I heard that the Times and some of the broadcast networks didn’t have a full-time reporter assigned to Trump until recently, which is shocking,” she said.


The self-professed ‘political junkie’ attributed the lack of quality campaign coverage to a shift in media focus towards short-term reporting projects that attract page views.

“Newsrooms have been cut and nobody wants to get deep enough in the days' stories,” she said. “Reporters don’t have the time to do the kind of pieces that I love. Things like investigative reporting are the most expensive kind of reporting.”

The Times’ first female executive editor also discussed the potential of internet-driven media sources, like Buzzfeed, to drive the future of longform journalism.

“Buzzfeed isn’t just covering the moment,” she said. “They have a 14-person investigative unit with editors and reporters. That’s actually bigger than what I had at my disposal as executive editor of the Times. They’re going places that others don’t.”

Going forward, Abramson recommended focusing coverage on the big picture when reporting during election cycles.

“I loved [reporting] with the approach the Wall Street Journal really taught me, which was not to focus on up-to-the-second breaking news and little developments inside the campaign meant really for an audience of insiders,” she said. “Really go out and understand yourself, by listening to people, what the election was really about.”

—Staff writer Daniel P. Wood can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @DanWood145.


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