On Nov. 8, 2016, I spent four and a half hours at the Tiger Cooler reporting on election night. When The Weekly editors pitched the idea to the staff, I was confused as to why no one was eager to step up. I thought that such a historical piece would garner more enthusiasm — we were about to witness the election of our first female President, after all.
I wanted to write the article because as a journalist, my job is to seek the objective truth. I aspire to collect the facts and give our school an accurate depiction of crucial events on campus. In this case, I wanted to convey the exciting victory (and maybe for a few, the disappointment) that Occidental students would be feeling on the night of Hillary Clinton’s win. I was rooting for Hillary to take the win — or to take it from Donald Trump at least.
So while it looked as if Trump would end up being our next President, it was difficult not to insert my own emotions into my coverage of election night. I am thankful that my fellow Weekly staff members did not allow me to contribute to the warped version of objectivity that has become common in news media. To let those emotions show would have undermined the fundamental aim of journalism, which is to deliver factual news to the people in its plainest terms. In the end, the article taught me that despite the difficulty in reporting on subjects or opinions we disagree with, we must seek credibility and uncover the truth; a practice that will allow us to emerge from difficult times with strength.
Journalists have a responsibility to uphold this practice, but it should apply to everyone involved in politics. For the Occidental student, this means that we need to stay accurately informed. We should not put faith in memes or rumors, or even media outlets which show a bias. We must learn to accept the discomfort of hard truths, or else we will be unable to organize against them in time to make change.
With the political and social issues that have surged recently, publications like the New York Times, Fox News and The Huffington Post tend to cater to the audiences that follow them. This means that we all read what we want to see, even though this could mean that a Clinton supporter saw hope instead of the unfortunate reality that she could lose. The media’s focus on the negativity of both candidates pitted people against each other, and forced many to simply choose who they thought the lesser evil, and even more to not vote at all.
Journalists don’t have the luxury of ignoring things that trouble us. We should have to pick them apart, explicate them and present them without our personal biases. I had to write an article that announced Trump the winner of the 2016 presidential election, even though the fact makes me want to vomit. Some media outlets have lost sight of the importance of that sacrifice.
I interviewed 14 total students and faculty members, and although I sought a diversity in opinions, none of them supported Trump. When I arrived, things looked bleak. Students frantically checked sources on their laptops. Some wiped away tears. Cheering followed each state won by Clinton, and impassioned boos followed each state taken by her opponent. The numbers were unexpected — she was slowly falling behind in the race, and so was the morale of the room. I wanted to solidify the emotions I saw: yelling, crying, pacing, debating and calculating, by letting people know that their reactions mattered, even if they were not popular. I kept reporting the story in the hopes that I could find a reason to believe she could win, but now I think that our beliefs deceived us. We believed that there was no way that Trump could win, probably because the polls showed that he wouldn’t, even though some of his following may have been silent or hiding in the news platforms we hate to see. Looking at the polls was not enough.
Hot from the overwhelming crowd and suffering from a headache, I sat down. My brother was texting me, asking to keep him updated. Our concern was shared, due to our many liberal values that differ from most of our conservative, Delawarean family. He admitted that he was scared. He told me that he heard my grandma shut the TV off and go to bed, so I texted her that I loved her, and him that I was still hopeful. I ignored the truth that the numbers told me and found comfort in my beliefs, just like some of us did before the final outcome.
My fears came true as the election came to a close. I was never blind to the fact that racism, sexism and discrimination in general was a real thing, but I did not previously think that a majority of my country would stand for such ignorant beliefs.
After editing the article with other Weekly staff, I wandered back to my dorm, sobbing the whole time. I had gotten the job done, and I was proud of myself for producing a recorded moment in history. The final product was an objective yet accurate representation of the student body’s collective panic. At least, I hope so. It was difficult to find opinions that were not pro-Clinton. This pure recollection of their input is what the piece was centered on, and why it became an example of journalistic truth.
I realized in that moment how difficult it is to be a journalist. To remain calm in moments of disaster. To speak in a steady voice when your fingers are trembling with fear. To do your best to seek a range of voices, not just those with which you agree.
Those of us who are outraged at these results need to fight to see the truths, even the ones that scare us, since temporarily silencing our hopes and opinions brings about revelations that inspire us to take action. At a time when our opinions need to empower us, we must also remember the importance of transparency and truth. Question everything, and seek credible sources, because truth is how we rebuild when things fall apart.
Ann Garber is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at [email protected].