Presidential politics becomes a group obsession


Medill journalism students watch Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, speak at the Republican National Convention. Photo by Ethan Fore.

It was the summer of Clinton. It was the summer of Trump. It was the summer of plagiarized speeches and the summer of leaked emails. It was the summer of discourse and the summer of drivel. It was the summer before the 2016 presidential election.

My cherub experience was more than sunburnt backs and swims in Lake Michigan. It was not solely editing stories or visiting the Chicago Tribune. My time at the Medill cherub program was consumed by the upcoming election.

But my experience wasn’t unique. Between meals at 1835 Hinman, strolls across campus and floor hours in East Fairchild, cherubs debated politics as their passion for learning, current events and the news extended past the classroom, spilling into all facets of our lives here.

As the 2016 presidential election revved up, so did our political conversations over the five weeks. A friend asked to read my op-ed on Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and I watched her documentary on the Syrian refugee crisis. A week later, students collapsed into frantic conversations as our phones buzzed with the Associated Press alert that Hillary Clinton had selected her running mate. I emailed a friend my favorite Paul Krugman articles, and he sent me links to Fox News broadcasts. And then, amidst bowls of popcorn, we all watched the Republican National Convention.

Before the program, following politics was an individual experience. It meant consuming one article after another and then, with unasked questions swarming in my mind, going to bed. At the program, following politics meant consuming one article after another and then debating them with 79 other students until 3 a.m. During my five weeks, I grappled with concepts I had never considered and wrote about perspectives I had ignored.

I began to see the value of not looking to The New York Times as my sole news source and downloaded the Wall Street Journal app. Instead of seeing the Middle East solely through the eyes of Haaretz reporters, I sought information from Al Jazeera.

These conversations encouraged me to remember that, as a journalist, it is my job to make sure that one story does not become the only story and to examine all sides of a narrative.

However, studying journalism during an election year didn’t just highlight the nuances in politics, painting my black-and-white view of the world with bright contradictions and questions. It also forced me to question the media’s role in election coverage.

“Just ask Trump where the funding would come from,” I yelled at the CNN broadcast, face flushed as I watched political journalists fail to the ask the questions that instructors had drilled into our heads.

Reporting on politics at cherubs during a volatile election season made me realize that there’s nothing else I’d rather do and maybe, in a few years, I’ll be the one asking those questions.