sports gazette

Frances Stead Sellers on Elections, Trump and Working at the Washington Post

Credit: Ricky Carioti, Washington Post.
Published: 8 Jun 2017

Frances Stead Sellers is a senior writer and editor for the Washington Post. The Sports Gazette spoke to her about covering the US elections, speaking to Donald Trump and working at the Post.

Frances Stead Sellers has covered American elections, she has written about key figures within the Trump administration, and she has even contributed to the 2016 best-seller "Trump revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President."

She has achieved all of that, as well as being a senior editor at the Washington Post, and appearing on television and radio for outlets such as BBC World News.

Yet despite achieving incredible early success after joining the newspaper in 2011, Sellers admitted that she followed a somewhat unconventional pathway into journalism.

"I was almost a lawyer, then worked in an academic quarterly, followed by a bimonthly. I remember a far cleverer friend saying it's good to be an expert in something you enjoy, whether it is fashion, finance or food. I have tended to stray across subjects, which has its own rewards," she said.

Sellers has witnessed the transformation of the industry first-hand, spending most of her career at the Post as an editor, running the newsroom’s health, science and environmental coverage during the battle over health reform and most recently was at the helm of the award-winning feature section, Style, home to topics ranging from political profiles to music reviews.

"I'm just a reporter so can't speak for the whole institution. But The Post is constantly innovating, in our coverage and in how we present it. Technological change adds a whole new and exciting dimension. Change and evolution are the new normal," she said.

One area that has seen perhaps the most drastic change, has been the importance of social media.

Now, it has almost become routine for a journalist to be constantly monitoring the Twitter account of the President of the United States, and Sellers believes that can still be a valuable journalistic tool, if the proper context is provided.

"We all use social media and monitor the social media accounts of the people we cover. We reflect Trump's changing views as they emerge, by putting them in context for our readers. Take a look at our fact-checker and you'll see a good accounting of the veracity of individual tweets and different tweets on the same topic."

Sellers also pointed out how social media is increasingly being used as a reporting tool, noting the work of her colleague David Fahrenthold, who won a Pulitzer this year for his coverage of Trump's charitable giving.

"He used Twitter to find out whether Trump had made donations, and later to ask people to help find a portrait of Trump. His tactics launched an entirely new transparent form of investigative reporting -- which he has continued to use on recent stories and other reporters are now trying."

Many journalists have attempted to characterise President Trump, and Sellers, who has spoken with Trump on numerous occasions, whilst covering the election campaign and reporting on his early days as President, revealed that he had been incredibly accessible to the media.

She said: "I think it is fair to describe him as charming, irascible, mercurial... all those characteristics are on display."

However, with the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the health care controversy, and Trump's recent mishandling of the London terror attacks, it is clear that America is about to reach a breaking point.

Jon Favreau, the former speech writer for Barrack Obama, said on his podcast: "we are entering territory where the guard rails of government are coming off".

Yet despite clear concerns, Sellers remains assured that the implementation of radical policies is still protected by the American constitution.

The Constitution provides a system of checks and balances -- and you have seen them in action in recent weeks. Despite having GOP control of the house, senate and the White House, Trump has not passed any major legislation, repealed and replaced Obamacare, or implemented the far-reaching immigration ban he aimed to -- because of congress, and the courts. So the guard rails seem to be in place!

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