The Presidential Inauguration and the Media

This past weekend, I traveled to Washington, D.C. with two fellow student journalists, Ryan Jenkins and Madison Rodgers, to cover the Presidential Inauguration and Women's March on Washington. Seeing history being made through two juxtaposing events was one of the coolest things I have done in my 20 years of living thus far. While I was here, I had to be an unbiased journalist, which I found very hard to do at some points. 

 

Protesters met at the security gate check at 7th and D Street in downtown D.C.

 

If you followed along with the Augustana Observer coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we got to downtown D.C. Friday morning around 7am and waited at the secruity gate check for four hours. It turned out that this security gate was the gate where all the protesters of the inauguration gathered. We were surrounded by a lot of anti-Trump protesters, with a few Trump supporters sprinkled in with their red "Make America Great Again" hats that stuck out like a sore thumb in that sea of people.

The protesters would chant things such as, "HEY HEY, HO HO, ISLAMOPHOBIA'S GOT TO GO" and "NO HATE, NO FEAR, IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE" intermittently throughout our time there.  I noticed that when the protesters would chant, the Trump supporters would stand in silence. The protesters were expressive but peaceful and the Trump supporters were just as peaceful. Literally the only interaction I saw between a Trump supporter and an anti-Trump protester was an intelligent and respectful debate that went on for about 45 minutes while waiting at the security gate check. 

On our way home from the inauguration, I had two missed calls from my mom. My phone was low on battery because I was using it so much during the day, so I figured I could just call her back when I got to the hotel. I also had a text from her saying, "Are you safe?" and then another saying, "I will be on the next plane if I don't hear from you." I figured that this was typical mom talk, so I just texted her back, "Yeah, I'm fine."

When I got back to the hotel and was able to charge my phone, I realized I had a voicemail from my mom that I didn't notice from earlier. I listened to it and it was her frantically asking, "Hey honey, are you in that instance that happened with the violence?  If you were not, just give me a call so I can relax.  I cannot relax until I know that you are okay, so what is going on? Please give me a call or a text. I'm waiting, honey. Hopefully, you are okay, sweetie. Love you..." and I could hear her voice breaking up at the end. That was probably the most worrisome message I've ever received from my mom. I had no idea what she was talking about when she said, "instance of violence." I knew that there were protesters at the inauguration, but no violence. I was very confused until I finally checked social media and saw headlines saying things like, "Protesters smash windows at McDonald's, Bank of America ahead of swearing-in," "Inauguration Protesters and Police Clash on Washington's Streets," and "Protests, Violence Flare Around Inaugural Ceremony," I wonder which Presidential Inauguration these news channels were really covering, because it sure wasn't the one I was at. I saw no violence and nothing even close to any sort of window smashing or property damage, but things were made clear as to why my mom was freaking out so much.

I am not denying that these things actually did happen, but the issue is when news outlets push the rioting story over the peaceful protests, everyone who is reading those headlines believe the narrative, even if they weren't actually there, especially the worried parents and family members of students that attended the march. Even Ryan and Madison's family members texted or called them, asking if we were okay, worried that we may have been in the midst of violent protesters when in reality, we were in a sea of people standing in the cold and rain for seven hours, holding signs and chanting.

As a photojournalist, I had a job to do at the inauguration. My job was to objectively report the facts and communicate what was happening through my photos to my audience.  It's very frustrating to me when the media is dishonest with the public, feeding people with click bait-y headlines that do not actually give an accurate report. Too many people are already cynical of the media, so when the media becomes cynical of the media, that's a problem. 

If there was one thing I learned through the experience of covering a national news event, it was the importance of wholesome news and how our opinon of the "other side" can be formed through inaccurate news reports. As a media producer and consumer, getting to experience a historical event such as this really reinforced my belief in the importance of honest and fair news reporting.