Learning from the Paparazzi: Rethinking How Photojournalists Cover Trump
Should photojournalists covering President Donald Trump take a cue from how paparazzi cover celebrities? It’s an approach suggested in “Lessons from the Paparazzi,” a chapter from the book Trump and the Media. “We need photojournalists to push back at the polish and the control,” said Professor Andrew Mendelson, the chapter’s author and associate dean at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY.
Photographers who chase Hollywood A-listers for shots are sometimes criticized for invading celebrities’ privacy. But Mendelson says the paparazzi phenomenon offers lessons for political coverage. It might include using long lenses to capture images from a distance, or encouraging freelance photographers who can’t be punished for protocol breaches the way credentialed correspondents can.
“If we think of celebrities as these elites of society, and as businesses in their own right, then we need to look at them as people who are trying to control their message and their image,” he said. “That spills over into my thinking of how politicians get covered … the same control, the same sort of message, the red carpet, the highly polished campaign events. We don’t often see politicians with their hair down.”
Staged photo ops and limited access to politicians isn’t new, but Trump “has restricted journalistic access to the White House in ways no other modern president has,” Mendelson wrote, “seldom holding press conferences and limiting the number of on-camera press briefings by White House spokespeople, in addition to publicly castigating the news media as the enemy.”
Photojournalists, he added, “have been excluded from documenting meetings with foreign dignitaries,” kept out of Trump’s clubs and resorts, and had their vantage points restricted at Trump’s public appearances. Yet photographers are essential “visual fact-checkers, monitoring the Trump administration from mismatches between what is claimed or presented publicly and what occurs backstage,” Mendelson said.