Think about it: If there are no assigned seats, journalists will race to the best spots. We're probably not talking about Black Friday-style stampedes here (though Trump would love that), but perhaps reporters will feel the need to show up earlier and earlier — sacrificing time they could be spending on other news-gathering efforts — in nervous attempts to ensure they don't get stuck at the back.
Positioning will be extra important if Trump and/or his press secretary, Sean Spicer, make a habit of calling on reporters at will, instead of determining beforehand who will get to ask questions. (Spicer didn't take any questions during his first White House briefing on Saturday.) Securing a place in easy view from the podium will be critical.
With a couple little changes, Trump could create an environment in which journalists have to jockey for position, then shout, wave and beg to be called on. It would be a subtle power play — a way to lower the media's standing in the White House by stripping away guarantees and forcing reporters to behave in a less dignified manner.
Competing for scoops is one thing; competing for front-row seats and chances to ask questions can only bring out pettiness and resentment.
For Trump, a more divided, anxious press corps would be a good thing. The media has been most effective at pressuring him on matters such as keeping journalists in the White House and allowing them to travel on Air Force One when news outlets have presented a unified front. Trump would much rather have reporters looking sideways at each other than all staring at him.
Think back to that news conference Trump held a couple weeks ago — the one where he called CNN “fake news” and refused to take a question from the network's Jim Acosta. Some journalists, including NBC's Katy Tur, suggested reporters from different outlets should have teamed up and halted the Q&A until Trump yielded to Acosta.
That didn't happen — and would have been very difficult to pull off on the spot. But it is the kind of thing journalists could discuss among themselves and agree to do in the event of a repeat — if they are all on good terms, that is.
Trump doesn't want to be embarrassed by that sort of wholesale rebellion in the middle of a news conference. He wants to be able to ignore whomever he wants, point to a reporter from a competing outlet and know that the next journalist — uncertain when or if another opportunity might come — will ask a question and leave his or her colleague in the dust.