It’s said that journalism is the first draft of history, and this week 10 students from Ithaca College will travel to Washington, D.C., to help chronicle a historic occasion — the inauguration of president-elect Donald J. Trump — for PBS NewsHour.
The trip is the sixth such collaboration with national news broadcasts for students in the Roy H. Park School of Communications.
Some of the students will work directly with PBS’s social media and digital production teams; the others will be on general assignment, gathering interviews and auxiliary video footage. James Rada, associate professor in the Department of Journalism and one of the faculty leading the students, said the student teams will allow PBS the opportunity to augment their footage of the inauguration ceremony.
“Every news outlet is going to have cameras and reporters there. Whomever we work with — in this case PBS NewsHour — we provide them extra sets of cameras and reporters,” Rada said.
“So when there’s a formal, scheduled, structured portion of the event, all the cameras in press row are pointing in that direction. Our cameras are pointing in the other direction.” That will, in a sense, allow NewsHour to be where the other networks can’t be, Rada said.
Thursday’s assignments, though, are still up-in-the-air and will depend on NewsHours’s needs. They may include covering specific pre-inauguration events or a request for any interesting goings-on the student teams come across. “They’ll say keep your eyes and ears open, see what you see, and catch it,” Rada said.
Rada and Anthony Adornato, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism, will be working right alongside their students in these efforts. The 10 students heading down to D.C. are Kenneth Bradley, Ahana Dave, Erica Dischino, Tom Garris, Reesa Hylton, Kelli Kyle, Erin McClory, Elena Piech, Michael Pyskaty and Kyle Stewart.
The students will also spend Saturday morning covering part of the Women’s March on Washington for any campus media, class projects or hometown media outlets with which they’re affiliated.
A professional and historic opportunity
The fact that they get to directly participate in an event with so much professional, social, cultural and historic significance is not lost on the students.
“We are not in the press section as ‘student journalists’; we are there as reporters for PBS Newshour,” Elena Piech, an emerging media major, said. “Myself, along with the other IC students attending, understand that we must produce extremely high-quality content. The photos, videos and packages that we create have the possibility to air live or will be featured on the website of PBS Newshour.
“That's an incredible opportunity, and I think it will make us push ourselves harder as journalists,” she added.
Kelli Kyle, a journalism major, said this inauguration is especially symbolic, given the controversies swirling throughout and the way in which populism overrode the establishment.
“To me, this is an unprecedented election in the values expressed by our president-elect, and I’m very eager to document this new type of American leader being sworn into office,” she said.
“Whether I agree with Trump’s views, the history nerd – and history minor – in me is excited to document this event from all different angles to preserve its symbolic message for years to come.”
Erica Dischino, also a journalism major, wants her experiences in Washington D.C., to provide her with a deeper understanding of what the country’s values are.
“I hope it solidifies a sense of what our country wants in a president, but also explains what protestors and opposing political parties might not want,” she said.
“Being a part of the press in one of the most divided presidential elections in history is an incredible honor but also a huge responsibility,” Dischino said.
Adding to that responsibility is the increased scrutiny, criticism and out-right derision of traditional news outlets, be they print, broadcast or online. In a time when the term “fake news” is being used to describe legitimately questionable articles and impugn basic facts, Rada and his students understand the importance of remaining as objective in their coverage as possible.
“We let the camera and microphone speak for themselves,” Rada said. “If people are sitting there yelling negative chants, slogans and comments, OK, well, the camera will reflect that. You don’t have to twist that, spin that or encourage that.
“By the same token, if folks are coming together, holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya,’ then that’s what the day is, that’s what the story is,” he added. “You’re true to the story, you shoot the footage, and you share that footage.”
For Erin McClory, a senior in the television-radio program, remaining objective requires research and understanding of different opinions, perspectives and personalities.
“But more than that, it’s about opening my mind and knowing that no matter how much research I do, I will meet someone who makes me reevaluate what I thought I knew or believed,” she said. “It is important to share these viewpoints, regardless of if they coincide with my beliefs or not, because every viewpoint is an important piece of this puzzle.”
The pieces of that puzzle will be dissected for years to come, and media coverage, including that from PBS NewsHour, will help provide the documentation for much of that analysis.
“Not only is this inauguration going to be in history books, but the way media covered this election and inauguration may very well be in history books, and I get to be part of that,” McClory said.