Wed, Feb 22, 2017 - Page 9 News List

US journalists, battered and groggy, find a sense of purpose

By Michael Grynbaum and Sydney Ember  /  NY Times News Service

White House misconduct; sensational leaks; battling broadsheets. The swirling story around US President Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia is being compared in journalism circles to past blockbusters such as Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky scandal — with a 21st-century twist.

News organizations such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN are jousting for scoops, but instead of sending clerks to grab the early editions from newsstands, editors watch the news unfold on Twitter in real time. Anonymous sources are driving bombshell stories and leaks are springing from encrypted iPhone messaging apps rather than from meetings in underground parking garages.

The news cycle begins at sunrise, as groggy reporters hear the ping of a presidential tweet, and ends sometime in the overnight hours, as newspaper editors tear up planned front pages scrambled by the latest revelation from Washington. In consequence and velocity, the political developments of the past four weeks are jogging memories of momentous journalistic times.

“There is this sense of urgency and energy that I feel now that reminds me of being 29 and in a very different situation: in the middle of a revolutionary situation in Russia,” said David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, who was a correspondent for the Washington Post in Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“I’m not saying it’s a revolution now, but there is this uncertainty about what is happening minute to minute, day to day,” he said. “There is this sense that every day is going to bring something startling, if not calamitous.”

For journalists anxious about the state of their profession, there is a renewed sense of mission. Newspapers are seeing a sharp rise in subscriptions. TV news, once dismissed as a dinosaur in the Internet age, is thriving. Rachel Maddow’s audience on MSNBC is up 79 percent from a year ago, with her show pulling more than 2 million viewers per night for the past two weeks. On Tuesday, Tucker Carlson of Fox News had more viewers than network hits such as New Girl and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

If the routine is energizing, it is also relentless. On Wednesday afternoon last week, the Atlantic staff writer Rosie Gray tweeted: “Only 9 hours or so till the next massive newsbreak that will prevent us from having lives again.”

Hallie Jackson, White House correspondent for NBC News, replied jokingly a minute later — “wuts a life” — to which Gray replied: “I remember vaguely there was a time when i had one.” By evening, Gray’s original message had been “liked” more than 850 times.

“The breathless pace of events reminds me of OJ and Monica days,” said Jeffrey Toobin, who covered the OJ Simpson murder trial and the scandal involving Lewinsky for the New Yorker. “The way both journalists and consumers feel kind of overwhelmed by the pace of developments. This feeling of, ‘Well, can’t it just stop for a while?’”

Even people paid to satirize politics find themselves agog.

On the Los Angeles set of Veep, the HBO parody series with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, writers and cast members rush to learn the latest news between takes.

“Everyone’s on their phone,” said Frank Rich, a liberal columnist, who is an executive producer of the series.

The accelerated metabolism is nonpartisan. Many right-leaning news sites are covering every twist of the White House developments and resisting the notion that the administration is embroiled in a major scandal.

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