Photos: NPR's Don Gonyea At GLT's Radio Faces | WGLT

Photos: NPR's Don Gonyea At GLT's Radio Faces

Nov 14, 2017

One year after Donald Trump's election, journalists are still trying to find their way with how to cover such an unconventional president.

To find out what voters think of Trump, NPR National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea likes to use the oldest trick in the book—a conversation at their kitchen table.

Gonyea was the featured speaker last Friday at GLT's Radio Faces at the DoubleTree Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington. Gonyea told GLT's Ryan Denham he spends 100 nights a year on the road—and he's learned a lot in the past year.

What have you learned about the country in the past 10 months since President Donald Trump has taken office?

You really have to talk to people, and there is no substitute for that. I drop into towns I’ve never been to before, and you’re always on deadline as soon as you get there. Between that moment and the deadline, you have to get everything you need for a story that somehow captures this place.

If you do that, ultimately you can write your story with more confidence, and you feel like you have been there. If I have done that kind of groundwork while I’m there, I always know where I am, and I think that is important.

What are some things you have done to put this presidency into context?

You know, sometimes the hyperbole is what you use because it is accurate. The pace of news and the pace of unusual things that we have just never seen a president or White House do before is relentless. Sometimes it is big stuff, sometimes it is his Twitter feed, sometimes it is how he insults people in his own party or (attacks) his predecessors in ways that presidents don’t usually do.

I think the key is that you don’t just put all that aside and say, “That’s just the way it is now. We aren’t going to worry about that.” That is a big part of the story, and you have to cover that, like the tweets, for example. But you also cover it in the context of how it is playing out in the world and how it's playing in the legislature and what results it is ultimately leading to.

And we’re doing it while we are being attacked as reporters. Basically, what I say is you can’t take the bait or take it personally, and you just have a job to do. You make sure you have your facts straight and that your story is buttoned down so if someone comes at you because of your story, you are able to defend it.

Have you noticed any change in the way people react to you when you come up to them and say you are a member of the media?

It might be a little more hostile in some Republican circles, among those hardcore Trump supporters. But I always find that I can find people who are happy to talk to me, happy to let me to come into their home and happy to explain to me why they think the way they do about him or about an issue.

But you go to a Trump rally and the onslaught against reporters is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. But people complaining about us and saying nasty things about us is certainly nothing new, and I have been at this a long time.

What is your take on the Nov. 7 elections in Virginia and New Jersey?

It was a great day for Democrats. Yes, New Jersey is a traditionally blue state and the governor there, Chris Christie, was immensely unpopular, so no shock the Democrat won there. Virginia has been trending blue—Hillary Clinton carried the state—but Republicans really felt like they had a shot.

You started your career at Detroit Public Radio. Can you talk about your time at NPR and why it has been such a good fit for you?

It really has become home. I was a hardcore NPR listener before I ever worked here. I did a stint in commercial radio and I listened to tapes of NPR that I made to learn how to be a journalist and craft a story and all that.

It was the place I always wanted to work. I just didn’t know I’d ever get a chance to work there. Once I got there, I didn’t know how long I’d be in the business, and I have now worked in public radio for more than 30 years. It has always been a place that has let me grow and tell stories in a way that you don’t get in (any) other broadcast medium. It’s just been a very satisfying and rewarding place… it has always been a place where I have found new challenges and adventures, and what else can you ask for?

You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Gonyea:

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