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The goal is to report, to inform, and to remain objective

By Alex Segell 

Attorneys arrive in bland and expressionless suits, so passé you wouldn’t be able to remember details even if you tried. They smile at one another candidly, shaking hands or even embracing for a hug. Offering quips here and there, they make small talk and humor each other with light laughter.

In the audience sits a family, and while it’s been years since they lost their loved one, they still wait with solemn faces. They lean forward in moments of a potential breakthrough and dismiss themselves when the evidence becomes too daunting.  When the counsel continuously objects, further delaying long-awaited closure, those who knew the victim roll their eyes, scowl, or even go so far as to throw their hands in the air out of impatience. Some grab the hand of the person sitting next to them, maybe to channel their frustration less obviously or simply out of the need for comfort.

Nobody acknowledges my presence, as I sit in the back row quietly scribbling and slowly shifting in my seat every so often. I am a new set of eyes, an inexperienced observer, and I listen to the intimate details of someone’s last moments on this earth.  I sit near the families, unnoticed, and wait for the same details. The goal is to report, to inform, and to remain objective.  With only a few hearings and a trial under my belt, it has proven difficult to remain objective at times. A mother giving a testimony about the love she had for her daughter, or a father who sits in the audience and wears a jersey bearing the name of his son can easily provoke emotion. I am a fly on the wall while others endure a tragedy that cannot be fixed with a conviction.  

D.C. alone has experienced 49 homicides this year, and counting. That’s 49 families whose entire lives have been flipped on their head in a matter of seconds.  More importantly, that’s 49 deaths that the general public will never know about nor care about. I sit and I scribble for the sake of the family, and for the off chance someone is interested in a death that occurred in a Southeast neighborhood of D.C. I listen to the details so that there is a legible and sincere record of someone’s life and their demise – so that people might pay attention.  But my presence does not change the fate of the victim, or the sorrow of the family, or the process of the trial. I am a third-party outsider, with no connection to anyone who sits in the room, but I involve myself deeply in a way that only I am aware of.  

While it may seem like I am too emotionally unsound to sit through a homicide trial and appreciate it for everything that it is, I mean to say the opposite. It is a surreal experience, to say the least, to listen to such intimate details, to be exposed to lives that I knew nothing of before, and to be there when questions are finally answered.  A family in a murder trial will not notice me, nor will the attorneys, the judge, or law interns who sit more confidently in the front. I am not a significant actor in the eyes of those who are so personally affected by this case, and at times I feel guilty for being there. But the work that is being done by the notes that I take, and by sitting unobserved, holds the possibility of affecting those so personally tied to the case in a way that gets them closer to closure.  

Touring the Capitol

By Jake Mauff 

I was on the Hill the day James Comey testified in front of the Senate. That’s a bit greater description than the story warrants, but it happened nonetheless.

I was told I’d be going to the Capitol before I showed up in DC. My internship hyped me up even more and that continued for a couple weeks. But it didn’t happen right away. That left me waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Then I went to the Capitol.

I went Wednesday to get the credential I needed. I just had to get a badge that day, so the intern who worked the semester before I did (shout out to WMI alumna, Makena!), was kind enough to show me around.

I saw George Washington painted holier than Adam in the Sistine Chapel. There were statues that were so well-crafted you couldn’t discern them from the real thing. There were a lot quirky things that caught my attention; for example, a square man from Hawaii is featured on the House side. Turns out he was a leper and had to wear essentially a box his entire life because of the illness, so he was actually square.

The next day, there was a markup on a bill in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee about commercial space travel. I went back to the Capitol to shadow the experience. There was one person in vocal opposition to the bill, ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson. She had proposed an amendment which would have pretty much reversed everything the bill did. Johnson ended up withdrawing the amendment, so the bill process was entirely effortless to pass afterwards. No one voted “nay” to the bill, even Johnson, so it advanced to the floor.

To top off the entire event, I wore a suit, with vest, all day. Changing out of all that at the end of the day was the best part.

Gender Lens Conference

By Nicole Dan

Despite the large number of women currently getting their degrees in journalism, the field is still largely male. I was grateful for the opportunity to attend the Pulitzer Center’s Gender Lens Conference last week.

Getting to rub elbows with people at the top of their field was an amazing experience. At the Women in Conflict Zones panel I got a sense of what it would be like as a woman reporting in a current or past warzone and the challenges of covering these issues.

Beyond the narrow scope of the classroom, I learned what it was actually like in the field – and how being a woman can be an advantage when it comes to earning the trust of other women. Journalism professors like a to enforce a strict standard of impartiality – which I find impossible to meet. People have opinions, and to dismiss that is almost more suspicious than acknowledging it. At the Diversity Panel, I learned that I wasn’t alone feeling this way and there were others in the field that feel that impartiality can be artificial. One quote by Daniella Zalcman stuck with me – “[Journalism] still looks at the world from a colonial gaze.”

On the second day I came back for a workshop on cyber security – which taught me how to securely communicate with sources through encrypted email and other methods. The most important stories of our day have come as a result of leaks, so it was important to me to learn about this technology.

The Gender Lens Conference was one of those unique DC experiences – having so many powerful people in a room at once.

DC Has Restored my Faith in American Ideals

By Amanda Cary

When I shared with friends and family that I would be spending my fall semester in Washington, D.C., most thought I was making a good choice in my development as a young professional. However, I noticed a recurring theme: people seemed to have something cynical to say about politics, media, and the future of the United States.

Usually, these comments were just jokes. “Are you going to set straight the politicians in Washington?” But as I dig a little deeper into it, it seems nearly everyone I know holds the notion that government workers are lazy, politicians are greedy, the media is the problem – and America is doomed.

I’ve got to admit, it’s a little difficult not to think that way right now.

To make matters worse, the presidential election is pretty much a disaster. I mean, come on – there are over 319 million people in the United States, and these were the only two we could choose to run for president? Not only does present-day America seem pretty bleak, but the future ain’t looking too bright either.

In times like these, it is easy to point fingers. And, for many, the most logical place to point is right at Washington, D.C. To some extent, that makes the most sense. Maybe if we had better laws, better politicians, better government workers, better coverage, things would be … better.

But this is not the full story, and I’ve seen it firsthand.

In the two months that I have been in Washington, I have met with individuals who should be “lazy government workers” or “biased journalists”  – except they are hardly ever any of these things.

At my internship at the U.S. Department of Education, I have been amazed by how exceptionally talented and passionate the employees are. From the interns and temporary employees to the Secretary of Education himself, each individual is so dedicated to providing an equal and quality education to every student in the United States.

One employee told me that she consistently works past normal business hours, on weekends, and on holidays. Her reasoning? “Every hour that I spend away from my job, another student gets left behind in their education.” If you ask me, THAT is the epitome of a hard working, passionate government worker.

These experiences are not limited to the walls of the Department of Education. From speaking to journalists who cover politics, to meeting with some of the politicians themselves, I have been taken back by how humble and genuine these people really are. 

It says a lot for a congressman to take time out of his busy schedule to meet with me, a 20-year-old intern who is just trying to figure what to do with her life – but it happened. My state representative, Ken Buck, sat and talked with me like a normal human being, offering advice on how to make the most of my college experience. It didn’t matter if I donated to his campaign or if I agreed with him politically. He met with me because I am his constituent and he cares about what I have to say – that’s leadership.

There’s something special when a well-known CNN journalist, Dana Bash, can Facetime a college class 20 minutes before her live shot to talk about the business of journalism, where it is going, and what her own job is like – that’s kindness.

We should expect the best out of our government and the people that report on it; they do. It is so important to hold them to a high standard and to criticize when needed in order to make improvements. But, we should also value, appreciate, and admire the people who take the brunt of all of our complaints. We should understand that it takes a special type of person to go into public service; these people are willing to sacrifice sleep, pay, travel – simply because they want to make American lives better.

Of course, there are corrupt politicians, there are inefficient government workers, and there are biased journalists. However, if you never leave your living room to discover for yourself what these professions are really like, how will you ever know the truth? You cannot fully judge the media and the government until you meet with the individuals who are behind the screens, behind the laws, behind the regulations.

Beyond that, we take for granted living in a country that allows us to participate in our democracy and enables us to have access to information. As crazy as politics can be, we are fortunate to be Americans – to have rights, to have a voice, and to know there are people in Washington, D.C. advocating for us.

I urge you to get involved with your political system before making any judgments. I hope that you have the chance to meet a journalist and understand what they do and what they care about. You may just discover real, genuine human beings who are truly the lifeblood of American democracy.

Originally posted November 8, 2016