- Harvard Presidential City of Boston Fellowship names new fellow
- In Harvard visit, media columnist Margaret Sullivan surveys state of the industry
- Trump’s language is directed at the worried working class
Posted: 07 Feb 2018 02:33 PM PST
With a desire to create community and support for young people, Omar Khoshafa '17 has been named this year's Harvard Presidential City of Boston Fellow.
Now in its second year, the three-year pilot fellowship provides funding for a recent Harvard College graduate to work as the mayor of Boston's public-service fellow. The full-time, one-year position reports directly to the mayor's chief of staff and is responsible for managing and executing projects on a host of issues.
"The Harvard Presidential City of Boston Fellowship is a great opportunity for recent graduates to help create and shape important city programs that will have a meaningful impact on Boston residents," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "Already, the city has benefited tremendously from the work of fellows, and I am excited to continue this program into its second year in partnership with Harvard College."
Harvard shows its commitment to public service in many ways, such as efforts by the Center for Public Interest Careers (part of the Phillips Brooks House Center for Public Service & Engaged Scholarship) to develop a structure and early recruitment process that encourages leading public service organizations to hire Harvard College graduates.
Harvard President Drew Faust said the Harvard Presidential fellowship "creates opportunities for recent graduates to put theory learned in the classroom into practice and to connect policy with on-the-ground issues, enabling them to make real and tangible contributions to our communities and to civic life."
"We are grateful to Mayor Walsh and the city of Boston for the opportunity to partner on this important initiative, and for his continued support in helping to further strengthen the collaborative relationships that exist between Harvard and the city," she said.
Khoshafa, who studied government while at Harvard, said he's particularly interested in local government because of the strong level of accountability.
"The opportunities to contribute at the local level are endless. That closeness to the ground, that sense of purpose that comes with local government, is what attracted me to this fellowship in the first place," he said. "Cities and states are laboratories for people committed and willing to do the work."
Khoshafa first got involved in public service while growing up in Malden, where he loved working with young people at his local mosque and at the Teen Enrichment Center.
"[I] learned about their struggles and challenges, and their hopes and dreams," he said. "It became important to me to look at how I could create meaningful community support for young men and women — especially those who are minorities and those of color who are sometimes falling through the cracks in our system."
Today, several months into his fellowship, Khoshafa is working on projects that include housing programs that address homelessness throughout the city. He's also involved in programs with the Boston Public Schools to help get homeless students into housing as soon as possible.
"I've always had the public service bug. I love opportunities to really bring value to people where they are, and to improve educational outcomes — whether they be in the public or nonprofit or private sectors," said Khoshafa. "I think what makes a difference for me is how accountable are you to the people you're serving and how effective are you in improving their outcomes. That's really what matters."
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Posted: 07 Feb 2018 01:29 PM PST
In a time when a U.S. president has been known to call journalists the "enemy of the people," the everyday work of reporting the news has rarely been more challenging. That's how Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for The Washington Post, sees it.
Following the death of New York Times media analyst David Carr in 2015, Sullivan is one of the few national voices in print and on the web who speaks hard truths about the embattled news industry's shortcomings and offers thoughtful remedies amid heightened public skepticism about the value that journalists bring to society.
Sullivan, former editor of The Buffalo News, rose to national attention in 2012 when she became the first female public editor of the Times, charged with holding it ethically accountable for its actions. She moved to The Post in 2016.
On campus this week for a visit to the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School, Sullivan spoke with the Gazette about the state of the news business, why it was a mistake for The Times to eventually eliminate the public editor position, and what young journalists should know about the craft.
GAZETTE: The media have been a big part of the news in the last year or two. What's the state of journalism today? What should reporters and editors be doing that they're not?
SULLIVAN: I think we are in a period of incredible turmoil. And in some news organizations I would even go so far as to say chaos. But we're in a time of great change. We're under attack, certainly, from the president.
On the issue of trust, I have a more nuanced point of view. I spent this past summer really trying to talk to non-coastal, regular folks about their feelings about the news media. I came away feeling like the reality wasn't quite what I had seen portrayed in public opinion polls. It was a more nuanced picture than that. A lot of people don't think the news media is perfect, but they do feel like they can get credible information from their own news media. There is sort of a split between this idea of "the media" that's out there and "my media," which is more trusted. So, if you read The Boston Globe and look at The New York Times online and listen to NPR, you feel like, "Yes, I know what's going on." But if I were to ask you about "the media," you might get this idea that I'm talking about all kinds of things: Facebook, Sean Hannity, CNN. So I don't think we're defining it well. I think it's extremely misleading to talk about "the media" as if it's some sort of cohesive entity. It isn't. I think it needs to be examined a little more closely, and that [will begin] to give us a better picture.
In terms of what journalists should be doing at this point, part of what's going on is we're covering a president who is unlike any other. And so, we can't really just do things the same old way and expect that to work. Some of the things I'm seeing that I think are good involve the new emphasis on fact-checking. Fact-checking done in real time is extremely important. Any kind of explainer journalism is very helpful. Take this whole thing with the [Rep. Devin] Nunes memo: If you asked people to explain that to you, I think they would have a hard time doing so except as a fight between the president and Republicans in Congress and the Democrats. Can people really describe what the issues are? Probably not. So I think we need to do a better job of catching people up on issues so they can have a better understanding.
GAZETTE: There was much hand-wringing after the election about the press coverage. Has the media learned lessons from the start of the 2016 presidential campaign?
SULLIVAN: I think we're doing a better job with paying attention to some of the parts of the country that we weren't very much in tune with — at least some news organizations are. I can speak about The Washington Post for one, which has something called the America Desk, that makes an effort to cover all of the United States and get away from just the Acela corridor. The Post was doing that before as well, but now we're doing more of it. Part of the reason for that is that we know we didn't capture the feeling of the country fully, and election night was a big wake-up call.
GAZETTE: At a time when trust in the news is low, and demand for accountability and reader engagement are high, why have so many newspapers, including The Post and The Times, done away with the public editor or ombudsman position? That seems counterproductive.
SULLIVAN: I think news organizations find ombudsmen/public editors to be something of a burr under the saddle. You're there to critique them, basically, and it's not very fun to be critiqued. And it's worse, in some ways, when it's coming from inside.
But I think that the biggest news organizations, and I would certainly include The Times in this, did benefit from the role because it made readers feel like they had an advocate inside the paper. I don't accept the argument that, "Well, there's so much outside criticism that that should take care of it. All we really need to do is bring that criticism to the surface and answer those questions." That's not the same thing as having an experienced journalist able to go to the top people and get some answers.
GAZETTE: Last month, you wrote a column critical of The Times in which you talked about the paper being "addicted" to its unique access to power, and how that has harmed its coverage, exacerbating what appears to be a crouch the paper enters when people criticize it. For example, there was a 2017 feature story about a white supremacist that appeared empathetic, and a recent opinion page given over to Trump voters. Those drew flak for seeming to accommodate a "both sides" equivalency. Why are they defensive about criticism?
SULLIVAN: The Times is a unique institution, and one of the reasons I wrote that column was that I think that what The Times does is very important. It affects the entire media system. And so, it's especially important for them to be transparent, it's especially important for them to own their mistakes. All journalists make mistakes, and all news organizations make mistakes. The Times also attracts a tremendous amount of criticism.
Someone observed, when I was public editor, that criticizing the Times is a form of performance art. It's kind of like, "Here's a way that I can get attention, too — by criticizing The Times." So all of those things are part of the mix. The Times does a lot of things extremely well, but I do say they have a tough time fully owning their mistakes. And that's why I think having a public editor there, although it may not be pleasant, is useful.
GAZETTE: There's a fascinating piece in Politico magazine that explains how the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag was a coordinated campaign, an example of computational propaganda with ties to Russian bot networks and aided by U.S. residents and others on social media and conservative media. The goal of computational propaganda, the piece explains, is to shape news coverage, frame issues in a favorable way, and shape the behaviors of both lawmakers and the public. By that measure, #ReleaseTheMemo wildly succeeded. Do you think people working in news understand that newsgathering and other trappings of news (exposes, analyses, punditry) are being used as a tool of information warfare and that in some cases, as with Russia, straight-ahead reporting is being used to advance an agenda?
SULLIVAN: I think we're beginning to grapple with that. It's a huge change in our business and one that's very hard to get your head around and extremely important to do so. I'm not sure how it translates into action, actually, because O.K., even if you know that this is going on, how is it supposed to change? You can certainly write about it, you can explain it to people, you can take it into account. But in the end, you're doing your best to gather the news and present it as truthfully as possible. There may be some brilliant answer to how to deal with this new reality, but I don't know what it is.
GAZETTE: Has the industry sufficiently recognized how President Trump has been able to control the news cycle by getting outlets to chase tweets and remarks that serve his interests, but that may have no real public policy implications? His "treason" remarks this week about Democrats who didn't clap for him at the State of the Union address is an example.
SULLIVAN: When the president of the United States speaks, especially speaks in an unusual, outrageous, accusatory way, we have to pay attention to that and also point out, in this case, what the actual meaning of treason is, and that this isn't treason. Treason is right up there with calling the press "the enemy of the American people." It's a very harsh kind of criticism to level. The president has a relationship with language that's nontraditional, to say the least. He uses expressions and descriptions in a way that are very exaggerated. Do we overreact to that sometimes? Yes, I think we do.
I don't think that we should be in the business as journalists of chasing every tweet and writing stories about every tweet. But when President Trump is tweeting, these comments become part of the political record. These are statements from the president, who's extremely powerful and influential, and I don't know how we ignore them. But I don't think we have to react to each one of them as if we're responding to a five-alarm fire.
GAZETTE: What advice do you give aspiring young journalists? Should they go into the industry and, if so, what should they know and know how to do?
SULLIVAN: I'm generally encouraging to students who are really committed to being journalists. If they have a passion for it and they've done the internships and the student newspapers and all the things you have to do, I think there are still opportunities out there. Certainly, the work couldn't be more important than it is now, so I never want to say to someone who is a passionate student journalist, "Forget it; you need to go to law school." I wouldn't and I don't say that. But I do think we need to be realistic. The old path is not there anymore: the idea that you might go to work for a small-town paper and quickly get yourself to a regional and then move on to a really big paper. That path, while it hasn't disappeared entirely, is much less dependable than it used to be.
Some of the digital-only news organizations based in New York or Washington, they aren't very fulfilling places to work because their business model is based in part on volume of readership, also known as clicks, and so the writers have to generate a lot of work. It's kind of a hamster wheel, in some cases, so that is not always very satisfying. But I also know a bunch of young journalists who have managed to get really good jobs and do fine work. I do think they need to master the old skills and also need to be able to do a lot of the newer things. They have to be strong on social media. They might need to be able to shoot their own videos or do others things like that. They need to have a combination of the old and the new.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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Posted: 07 Feb 2018 10:45 AM PST
One of the most unusual aspects of President Trump's unconventional presidency is his distinctive speaking style. It's a caps-locked world of mixed syntax, offbeat grammar, malapropisms, slang, exaggerations, pet phrases, and "us versus them" contrasts. Nonetheless, the way he communicates proved a powerfully effective draw for many voters during the 2016 election.
His communications style has come under renewed scrutiny following the recent publication of the dishy best-seller "Fire and Fury" and the derogatory remarks he reportedly made to members of Congress about Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries.
Since the start of his presidential campaign, Trump's colloquial, often strident speaking approach has proven unusually polarizing for a politician who would be elected to govern a nation of 325 million. What many listeners find authentic and unpretentious, others find coarse and off-putting.
Sociologist Michèle Lamont, the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies and professor of African and African American studies, believes that, from early in his candidacy, Trump's word choices signaled a deliberate effort to court supporters without college degrees, including working-class whites and those in lower-paying jobs such as retail sales or bank services, the very subset of voters who overwhelmingly turned out to put him in office.
Lamont, director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, extensively studied the white working class in the United States and France for her book "The Dignity of Working Men" (Harvard University Press, 2000), and when Trump stepped onto the political stage, his pitch instantly sounded familiar to her.
Recalling her interviews with earlier subjects, "I knew that they defined themselves as the people who keep the world in moral order. That's done in part by this notion of 'providing and protecting' women," she said. Also, "They drew very strong boundaries toward African-Americans and the poor, mostly by emphasizing the lack of 'self-reliance' of these groups."
To understand better how the president's use of political rhetoric resonated with these voters (and, by the way, generally continues to do so), Lamont and Harvard graduate students Bo Yun Park and Elena Ayala-Hurtado examined 73 formal speeches Trump gave during the campaign. In a paper published in the British Journal of Sociology, they focused on references to social groups such as refugees, Latinos, and Muslims, and the topical contexts in which those words were used, such as safety and jobs.
Instead of analyzing Trump's word choices through traditionally narrow lenses of race or ethnicity, for example, Lamont said they looked at how his rhetoric reinforced a broader theme of exclusion by emphasizing the boundaries that working-class whites perceive between themselves and others, whether racial, ethno-national, educational, socioeconomic, or religious.
"We could immediately see how he was appealing to workers by talking about blaming globalization, saying he was going to give [them] jobs" — and not just white workers, but African-Americans and Latinos too, Lamont said in an interview. "His populist argument was oriented toward appealing to all workers, but at the same time, he was [engaged in] veiled racism by talking about 'the inner city' and things like that."
Though all politicians try to use words and phrases to inspire voters to support their ideas, Lamont said that Trump's speeches show his expert marketing instincts at work. His disparaging references in speeches to immigrants, Muslims, and Mexicans who immigrated illegally, along with his assertion that African-Americans were predominantly poor and living in gang-ravaged cities, were strategic "red buttons" that resonated with his white working-class base. The language was both explicit and implicit, she said, designed both to reinforce the social boundaries his base perceived between themselves and other groups and to validate their attitudes about their own inherent worth and the values they believe distinguish them from others.
Trump's strategy "to constantly pour oil on the fire" by antagonizing various groups was a way to appeal to working-class white voters and an effort to accentuate the differences between them and everyone else, thereby cementing their loyalty. The language also validated their world view and self-perception as the hard-working victims of globalization, and it emphasized the perceived shortcomings of groups that white working-class voters believe are below them on the social and economic pecking order — immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, and Latinos — but also those perceived as above them — "coastal elites" and other cosmopolitans such as political progressives, academics, and professionals with special expertise.
Trump's remarks about women and LGBTQ people centered on an argument that they needed "protection" from violent immigrants, especially "Muslims," a term he used as a stand-in for radical Islamists, she suggested. Though he sometimes spoke positively about women, saying he was "surrounded by smart women," Trump also "talked about them as people who need to be protected and provided for, which is very much appealing to the traditional ways workers assert their own worth, because it's one of the dimensions of working-class masculinity — to be providing for and protecting women and family," said Lamont.
People tend to make sense of their social world by putting themselves and others into groups based on perceived commonalities and differences, such as ethnicity, race, religion, gender identity, sexual preference, and socioeconomic status. These boundaries function as a way to define who belongs to a particular group or strata and who does not. In the paper, Lamont noted that one of the more effective strategies Trump employed was to recognize the important role that dignity plays among the white working-class and seize on its power by blaming the economic inequality and unemployment they've experienced on globalization, rather than on a lack of education, training, or other factors.
"For the working class to find themselves with no job is both an economic tragedy and a cultural tragedy, since their self-concept is very much about being hard-working. So by telling them, 'It's globalization, and it's the people who pushed globalization, such as Hillary Clinton, who are responsible for your downfall,'" Trump directed their anger outward and removed them from responsibility for their life circumstances, she said.
"We have to remember, many workers, they want to think of themselves — and they are — as extremely hard-working, and they want jobs. … He's trying to give them their dignity back by saying, 'I know that you're hard-working people, and you're capable of doing this.'"
Lamont disagrees with the contention that Trump's election was driven by economic anxiety or by racial resentment. Rather, she sees the outcome as more nuanced, involving a debate over status positioning. "The sense of status hierarchy that people are defending has to do with both cultural resources — that is, who is viewed as the legitimate citizen, who has cultural membership, who defines what mainstream America is about — but also about economic resources," she said. "So it's both at once."
One way that academia can help bridge political divides and social boundaries in this country and pierce information echo chambers is to work on some of these issues in a cross-disciplinary way, said Lamont.
"I think social scientists really need to take on a dimension of inequality that has not been studied as much as the unequal distribution of income and wealth, which is this process of recognition by which groups develop their sense of worth," she said. "That's very much my agenda moving forward."
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