Why Thursday’s Free Speech Editorials Represented a ‘Moment’ for the Media

More than 350 newspapers say journalists are not the enemy

The Boston Globe put out a call, and hundreds of papers answered.

Hundreds of newspapers across the country published editorials today in defense of a free press.

In response to President Trump’s repeated attacks on the media, most recently calling the media the “enemy of the people,” The Boston Globe’s editorial board led the pack, publishing an editorial under the headline, “Journalists are not the enemy” and putting out a call to other newspapers to address the topic.

“A central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press. … This relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences,” the Globe’s editorial board wrote.

More than 350 newspapers are estimated to have answered the call. “A Free Press Needs You,” The New York Times’ headline read. “Mr. President: We aren’t enemies of the people. We’re a check on government,” the Chicago Tribune’s read. “Free press—our protection from tyranny,” wrote the board of the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota.

“This is a classic ‘moments’ situation in media buying,” said Clint White, president and founder, WiT Media. “I think certain brands will want to support the publishers’ efforts from a philosophical point of view in this political climate if they feel authentic.”

Trump has openly criticized reporters, calling them “bad people,” “fake news media,” “crooked” and the “enemy of the people.” He’s also regularly used his Twitter account to openly blast reporters and publishers.

“If you doubt President Trump’s success at inciting and deploying disciples to do battle for him in his war on ‘the enemy of the people,’ take your typically underpaid, overworked hometown newspaper journalist to lunch some day,” penned the editorial board of the Waco-Tribune Herald in Texas.

Journalism organizations also joined the cause. The Radio Television Digital News Association called for editorial boards to speak out, and the Society for Professional Journalists released a statement in solidarity with the newspapers publishing editorials “to fight back against repeated attacks on the media.”

“Since content is king, the editorials provide a new hook to drive a certain type of curious, engaged customer to the publication at that moment,” White said. “This confluence can create a positive opportunity for media buyers, mostly if the content is engaging and provided in an ongoing way that maintains engagement.”

Not all newspapers got on board. That includes the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, which has criticized Trump in its editorial pages in the past.

John Diaz, the paper’s editorial page editor, wrote that he agreed with the Globe’s view that attacks on the press under Trump were “alarming,” but that it was more meaningful as a publication to take a stance against the rhetoric outside of the crowd, and that the campaign could feed into Trump’s view that the media is against him.

“Our editorial page will continue to speak out against this president’s war on the free press,” Diaz wrote. “Our silence on Thursday is testament to our commitment to do it in our own way, on our own timetable.”

Trump didn’t stay out of the discussion Thursday:

In a subsequent tweet, Trump did mention the Globe and The New York Times by name, giving incorrect information about the Times’ sale of the Globe and stating, “Now the Globe is in COLLUSION with other papers on free press. PROVE IT!”

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.