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The White House Press Corps Should Prepare For Big Changes Under Donald Trump

“The traditions, while some of them are great, I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things," says incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

12/14/2016 12:27 pm ET | Updated Dec 14, 2016
Mike Segar/Reuters
Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus indicated changes are coming to the White House press corps.

Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, said Wednesday that traditions journalists have become accustomed to, from daily press briefings to assigned seats at the White House, are being reassessed as Donald Trump prepares to take office. 

“The traditions, while some of them are great, I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House, and I can assure you that change is going to happen,” Priebus told radio host Hugh Hewitt.  

Journalists shouldn’t be shocked by Trump’s willingness to break with precedent, considering he did so throughout the 2016 campaign, from blacklisting news organizations to routinely attacking the press to threatening lawsuits against media outlets. Trump has also broken with tradition during the transition period by not allowing for a fully “protective pool” or holding a news conference. 

Upon taking office, Trump isn’t obligated to hold daily press briefings or allow news organizations to set up on White House grounds, as HuffPost noted just before his victory. Given Trump’s use of social media to circumvent the press now, it seems he will try different ways of communicating than his predecessors. 

Priebus discussed the transition team’s view of long-standing press traditions after Hewitt suggested the president appear each Friday on a nationally syndicated show instead of doing the typical Saturday morning radio address. 

“Look, I think that many things have to change,” Priebus said. “And I think that it’s important that we look at all of those traditions that are great, but quite frankly, as you know, don’t really make news.”

Priebus said the transition team is considering “different ways” of briefing the press and looking at the practice of news organizations having assigned seats at the White House. He also suggested the assigning of seats began during the Obama White House. 

In a statement, White House Correspondents Association President Jeff Mason said Priebus was incorrect and that there have been assigned seats since they were installed in 1981. 

“The WHCA assumed responsibility for assigning the seats in the briefing room over the last two decades at the request of both Republican and Democratic administrations, who were mindful of the potential appearance of playing favorites if they assigned the seats themselves,” said Mason, a Reuters correspondent. “The WHCA looks forward to meeting with the incoming administration to address questions and concerns on both sides about exactly this sort of issue.”

Some journalists may welcome such change considering that the major TV networks and wire services dominate the front of the room and the pecking order hasn’t necessarily kept up with the changing media landscape. There are only 49 seats, and digital outlets such as The Huffington Post and Breitbart News, which is sure to be influential during the Trump years, don’t have their own.  

The last major change took place in 2010 when Fox News moved to the front row following the death of journalist Helen Thomas, at which point The Associated Press shifted to to her long-held, front-and-center seat.

Hewitt joked that he’d like that one when the Trump team changes things up. 

This post has been updated with a statement from the White House Correspondents Association. 

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