Penn Justice Democrats invited two reporters from The Intercept to talk about progressive journalism to kick off its first speaker event of the spring semester.
Over 20 students joined the Feb. 16 Zoom event to hear Akela Lacy, a politics reporter, and Alex Emmons, a national security reporter, speak about their experiences as professional journalists, which was followed by a question and answer session with the attendees. Both speakers discussed their hopes for the Joe Biden presidency, how they interact with mainstream media, and what problems progressive journalists will face in the years to come.
Emmons began the event by discussing the adversarial role that progressive journalists have taken on. He said that, since the American media has largely taken its cues for how to be adversarial from the opposing political party, progressive media has to hold those in power accountable in a different way than other outlets do to ensure unique viewpoints are added to the conversation.
Emmons and Lacy also highlighted what progressive journalism needs to look like during the current presidency.
Lacy then discussed her reaction to Biden’s electoral victory over Trump, mentioning that — though she was critical of Biden throughout the 2020 primaries and general election — she is noticing that there are some upsides to the Biden presidency.
“For a certain extent, we breathed a sigh of relief after Trump left — not because we liked Biden or were excited to cover this administration, but because there is more of an opportunity to actually get into and cover the substantive policy issues,” she said.
Both Lacy and Emmons said that former President Donald Trump has fundamentally changed the media landscape and how progressive and mainstream outlets will cover Republicans.
While Emmons said there is a lot of uncertainty about what the Republican Party’s plans are for the future, he added that the GOP “cannot pretend like they are not radicalizing their own base” anymore, especially after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
“Trump was cartoonishly over the top. It is going to change the way that people cover Republicans forever,” he said. “You’re going to get more openness in calling out racism, and more openness with calling out bad faith actors.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, attendees asked the reporters about progressive politics and the field of journalism.
When asked how successful progressive journalism has been recently, Emmons emphasized how hard it is to quantify progressive victories, stating that it is very rare that progressives "get everything they want” in American politics. He said that success happens when progressive organizations are able to shift the moral center of an issue discussion, and that he has seen a lot of these debates shift further to the left in many issues over the last few years.
Both journalists agreed that college students need to be aware of the news they consume and its sources in order to recognize any commercial interests that could be in play.
“[Before working in journalism,] I didn't really understand how my consumption of media has shaped my worldview. It is really important for people to understand that context and have an idea of what other options are out there,” Lacy told The Daily Pennsylvanian after the event. “You should have the tools in your back pocket to have conversations with people about difficult issues.”
Emmons told the DP that one of his biggest takeaways from his career in journalism is to not make assumptions about others’ beliefs or why they think the way that they do, emphasizing that there is no substitute for listening to people and understanding them.
For students who are upset or frustrated with the current media landscape, Lacy expressed the importance of supporting news outlets doing reliable work, and also suggested they get involved with journalism.
“I got into journalism because I wanted to figure out the best way to create a way for people to understand issues that they don't understand, in the hopes that they would then be more passionate and create change,” Lacy said.
College junior and Penn Justice Democrats Outreach Chair Tara Yazdan Panah, who organized the event, said that the club wanted to host a discussion with journalists in order to learn more about how to further their progressive agenda through the media.
After listening to Lacy and Emmons discuss their experiences in the field, Yazdan Panah realized how difficult progressive journalism is right now, since she believes the media landscape is dominated by centrist and right-wing voices.
Simultaneously, however, Yazdan Panah expressed that it was relieving to hear that both journalists were optimistic about the future of politics and media, as both fields are beginning to incorporate new perspectives.
“I was really hopeful to see that, in the past few years, especially with the younger generation being more involved in politics, we are getting a more adversarial side of journalism that is open to questioning people on both sides of the aisle,” Yazdan Panah said.