PBS NewsHour’s Woodruff Talks About the Trump Phenomenon

Donald Trump is posing a major conundrum for the news media that is trying to figure out how to cover him, PBS NewsHour Co-Anchor Judy Woodruff told host Marvin Kalb on the April 20 edition of The Kalb Report.

“He is by definition a non-politician,” Woodruff said.  “So we’ve struggled to figure out how [to] cover somebody who is so outspoken, who doesn’t care what the Republican establishment thinks of him, takes on the news media directly [and] uses language that we sometimes can’t repeat on television.”

And until just recently, she said, he has not had much of a campaign staff―and that’s who reporters usually consult with to flesh out stories about a candidate.

“There’s hardly anybody around Trump,” she said. “He’s been able to go on television, do town halls, hour-long interview after interview after interview, and that’s really propelled his persona out there and made him what he is today. He’s created his own media world. We haven’t seen anything like this.”

So, Kalb asked, why do television networks give him so much airtime?

“He’s proven to be a phenomenal ratings draw,” Woodruff said.  Even Les Moonies, who is president and CEO of CBS, has said how good Trump has been for business, even if he’s not good for journalism, she added.

Judy Woodruff has been in the top ranks of national journalism for 40 years, ever since she covered Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign and then his White House.  She has served as chief White House correspondent for NBC and PBS, and as host of CNN’s Inside Politics before joining the NewsHour.

Woodruff explained how the NewsHour has rapidly adapted to the new media platforms, which has opened its journalism to a far wider audience online than just the television program.

“Four times as many people are watching our online content. There are 40 times as many stories online as what we are able to get on the show. It’s critical to us to reach those people,” Woodruff said.

“While we have a loyal group of viewers, we also want to reach those folks who only get us on their wristwatch or on their mobile device.”

The Kalb Report is a joint project of the National Press Club’s Journalism Institute, the University of Maryland University College, the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. It is underwritten by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.