New York Times reporter discusses media's role in this election cycle

Steven Eder, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, explains the fast-paced environment of fact checking presidential debates on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, in the Student Union Theater. (Bill Heyne/The Daily Campus)

Steven Eder, investigative journalist from the New York Times, conducted a Q&A session with UConn students about the 2016 Presidential campaign Monday night.

Eder hails from Michigan, an alumnus of Michigan State University, whom UConn beat in the NCAA Final Four Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2015, when Eder was covering the event as a sports journalist. Before coming to the New York Times, Eder covered the 2004 Presidential election and worked for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

Eder described his role in this election’s coverage as vetting the candidates and asking, “What do we need to know about these people?” He was also a member of team “Fact Check” for the 30 plus Presidential debates that took place over the course of the campaigns.

How much is too much for investigative journalists, was a prominent question of the evening. Eder responded that when a candidate chooses to run for President, almost everything is fair game as voters need to know who they are voting for. But in the case of family it is different, he said. A journalist must consider the intersection between what the family member is doing and the ideas and policies of the candidate themselves. If the two overlap, then the behavior of the family member is relevant for the public to know.

One of the most interesting questions from the evening, was whether Eder and his colleagues found it difficult to be impartial knowing Donald Trump’s very public antipathy toward their paper. Writing in the New York Times in August, Jim Reutenberg argued Trump was “testing the limits of objective journalism.”

Eder said that Trump’s remarks about the media were not unprecedented, because there is a growing trend of distrust towards the media. However, Eder said that the way journalists should combat these accusations should be by continuing to do their jobs effectively - writing the difficult stories, asking the difficult questions and grilling the difficult candidates. The constant scrutiny journalists are put under can serve as an extra push to keep themselves unbiased and relevant in an age increasingly dominated by new forms of media.

The role of WikiLeaks and social media in the Presidential campaigns came up in a question about the reliability of modern media. Eder said that WikiLeaks presented an ethical challenge for journalists. But, he said, WikiLeaks information is out there in the public sphere, and thus it is his role as a journalist to scrutinize the information being published, as he would with any other source.

Eder believes the way for traditional, mainstream media to survive in the modern world is for it to keep doing its job extremely well. He said that although competition made his work challenging, it also spurred him on to create better content. Traditional media can strike the appropriate balance in a Presidential election between discussion about the candidate’s policy aims and their characters.

The term “unprecedented” was widely used in both questions and answers. One commenter probed that a reason for this election being described as unprecedented, was the extremely personal tone the candidates have taken during this election.

Eder remarked that while this was true, there had also been substantive policy discussion taking place. Instead he said that the election was unprecedented because of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the first female presidential nominee for a major party, the GOP candidate having never held elected office and Bernie Sanders joining the Democrats to prove a point and run for President.

Despite all the challenges facing traditional media, journalism remains an aspiration for thousands of young people.


Laura Nash is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at laura.nash@uconn.edu.