Category: GEMA, GEMA Event

Title:GEMA and the Georgetown Institute of Politics jointly presented the virtual panel event, “Breaking News: Covering the Race for the White House”

By Cady Stanton (C ’20)

At an event titled “Breaking News: Covering the Race for the White House” held over Zoom October 8, GEMA partnered with the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service to bring together four journalists onto a panel to discuss the unique challenges and experience of covering the 2020 presidential election.

The event came less than a month before a historic Election Day in the United States and included a panel of Georgetown alumni and a GU Politics fellow in a discussion on what they’ve seen on the campaign trail and what they expect to come in November. Panelists included Julia Jester (C’15), a political reporter for NBC News; Ken Thomas (C’97), a national political reporter at The Wall Street Journal; Fall 2020 GU Politics fellow Errin Haines, an editor-at-large at the 19th News and MSNBC contributor; and Sam Feist (L’99), senior vice president and Washington Bureau Chief at CNN.

The panelists spoke on various topics surrounding the 2020 presidential election including the unique challenges of covering the campaign during COVID-19, the role of journalism in covering the electorate’s reactions to politics, recent shifts in the media landscape and changes to the public’s trust in the news media.

Following opening remarks from GEMA Founder and Chairman Rich Battista, current student Gabe Fleischer (C’24), founder and editor-in-chief of the Wake Up to Politics newsletter and blog, introduced the panelists and Mo Elleithee (F’94), executive director of GU Politics, moderated the panel.

Jester, a political reporter for NBC News, is a campaign embed with experience following major Democratic presidential candidates and creating connections with voters in various battleground states. There are specific hazards of campaign trail reporting in 2020 that no one could have predicted, according to Jester.

“We’re always aware of our safety when we’re out reporting, but in this election now we have to be aware of our health too, which is something that normally wouldn’t have happened pre-COVID,” she said at the event.

Jester also detailed how 2020 has helped many journalists to see how politics is deeply ingrained in so many facets of society beyond how we used to understand presidential campaigns in an election year.

“One of my bosses and mentors said that they were impressed at how everyone has been pivoting from politics to all these different stories but then realized: it’s all political,” Jester said. “Everything has turned into campaign coverage, even if it’s not the traditional campaign trail that we’re used to.”

Thomas is a national political reporter at The Wall Street Journal with two prior decades of experience reporting at the Associated Press. He echoed Jester’s sentiment on the necessity of adaptability for reporters covering the 2020 presidential campaign.

“We’ve really been forced to use other tools at our disposal,” Thomas said. “It’s unlike any other campaign I’ve covered, and it’s really stretched all of our abilities and skills.”

Thomas also spoke on the impact of the shift in trust of the media in recent years on how journalists do the job of getting information to readers.

“Transparency is really important to this conversation and the issues of trust,” Thomas said. “I think the best stories often tell the readers: this is how we went about doing our job, and almost demystify the act of journalism. Sometimes that gets lost in social media.”

Haines, an editor-at-large at the 19th News and MSNBC contributor, spoke on the panel about her expectations of what this year’s election would look like compared to the reality of the recent months.

“As a political reporter, for most of us this was supposed to be the Super Bowl this year,” Haines said. “This was already going to be the most consequential election that most of us had ever covered.”

Voters already have a sense of Donald Trump and Joe Biden because of how well known they are as political figures, so 2020’s focus will instead be on understanding the voters themselves, according to Haines.

“This is really an election about who the voters are. Having as much of a handle on who they are could not be more important in this moment and yet it is so challenging because of the pandemic,” Haines said. “We need to talk to voters and yet everybody has been inside and been on lockdown, so it’s not as easy to do those man-on-the-street interviews.”

The final panelist at the event was Feist, senior vice president and Washington Bureau Chief at CNN. Feist, who first started at CNN in 1990, detailed his perspective on managing campaign coverage this year and the new approaches his team has had to take to adapt to our current moment.

“Every muscle that any of us have ever used in journalism, we have had to deploy to cover this story, and that also takes really massive resources,” Feist said. “American journalism has covered 2020 in a remarkable way, and it has shown how important journalism is, how important journalists are. The adaptability of all of these news organizations has just been remarkable.”

You can find a full recording of the event through this link.