columns, Current Events

‘Trump Bump’ Spurs New Wave of Journalists


I started out in this business covering sports for my hometown paper in high school in 1968 – 50 years ago this fall. The next year I was off to college to study journalism.As it turned out, I was the beginning of a tsunami.

Post Pentagon PapersThe Pentagon Papers came along in 1971 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government could not bar publication of the secret government reports. That was followed up by the Watergate burglary in 1972, President Richard Nixon’s attempted coverup and his resignation in 1974. The news media was forever changed; their role more visible and important. If you need a refresher, the movie “The Post” provides an excellent one.

Thousands headed off to journalism school. Those journalists are now nearing the end of their careers, but generations of others have followed, although that flow has slowed lately.

Now Donald Trump has changed all of that.

Trump Tweets DepositphotosAccording to a story by Politico, legacy news products like the New York Times, The Washington Post and others have seen significant increases in new subscribers among millennials since the presidential election. It has continued thanks to Trump’s daily attacks on the media and the investigative work of newspapers like the Times and Post.

Between 2016-17 the share of Americans ages 18-24 who paid for online news went from 4 percent to 18 percent, according to a Reuters Institute study. Age 25-34 rose from 8 percent to 20 percent. The “Trump Bump” is being driven by young people who don’t like Trump and subscribe to news organizations that they see as being a bulwark against him, according to Nic Newman, lead author of the study.

But the bigger benefit of the “Trump Bump” is more college students showing an interest in journalism. Shelley Hendricks, adviser to The Northern Star at Northern Illinois University, said the paper has seen a big bump. At a recent student activities event, there was a waiting line at the booth for the newspaper. Students have been walking in off the street to report for the student newspaper.

Lola Burnham, adviser for the Daily Eastern News at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, has also seen a bump, although on that campus it has been with students wanting to write opinion pieces, rather than be reporters.

William Buss has seen some of the same at the Western Courier at Western Illinois University in Macomb. But while more have shown interest, he said they don’t always follow through. His paper is stepping up recruitment. Carolyn Yaschur, who teaches journalism at Augustana College, said when she teach news literacy, explaining the importance of journalism is a much easier “sell” now than it was. “I think the students better understand why we need journalism more than ever,” she said.

Tom Martin, adviser at Knox College, said the school is considering a journalism program to boost enrollment. Stan Zoller, lecturer at Lake Forest College said his school has seen a “slight bump” as well.

While it may not have as big an impact as the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, it is clear that the anti-media actions of President Trump are encouraging young people to support watchdog newspapers and consider becoming a journalist.

In this time of “fake news” when the media seem to be under daily attack for their reporting and digging into news that some would prefer suppressed, it is good to remember the words Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in the Pentagon Papers decision:

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 2.49.49 PM“In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”

It is the greatest irony of his administration that President Trump is responsible for a new wave of journalists (and those who read them), doing more of the reporting and opinion writing that he so detests.

  • Roger Ruthhart headshot BRoger is the editor of This article is re-posted courtesy of The Dispatch-The Rock Island Argus-QC