By Maggie Gottlieb ’17
Broadcast Journalism Major
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Nov. 16) – Just a month before America’s fateful electoral day came, Merrill College’s Capital News Service reporters received some exciting news of their own.
“We’re sending two CNS reporters to London for Election Day to cover overseas reaction,” Broadcast Bureau Chief Sue Kopen Katcef told her students after Maryland Newsline one night.
I was practically jumping up and down in excitement.
I’ve been covering this election at various internships since the very first campaign announcements back in the spring of 2015. Vividly, I remember being at my internship at CNN Newsource when we heard over the scanner that Donald Trump would soon hold a press conference “regarding the 2016 presidential election.”
As a budding journalist, every moment since has been riveting, historic and perhaps a tad disturbing. I spent a week in Philadelphia last summer covering the Democratic National Convention for CNS. We witnessed the first woman be nominated for president of a major party, even amidst reports of collusion with the DNC and a walk-out by angry Bernie Sanders supporters. Just one week prior, America saw the divisive nomination of Donald Trump despite RNC delegates’ feeble attempts at a contested convention.
The America in the months since the party conventions has been one of tension and divisiveness. But it wasn’t just America who was watching on Election Day.
Off to London
As our plane took off to London just a few days before the election, we looked back at the nation’s capital below us, thinking the next time we stepped on American soil, our country would have elected its first woman president. We were wrong, much like most of the media industry and many American voters.
We arrived on Sunday tired but incredibly excited for the week ahead. Our friends at Bournemouth University, the partnership that enabled the reporter swap, picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel near The Eye (thank goodness they did because the London tube system is ridiculously convoluted). After dropping off our bags, we hit the ground running and started interviewing people on the street about their thoughts on the U.S. election. Most were troubled by candidate Donald Trump, but also weary of Clinton because of her email scandal.
While exploring the city that day, we stumbled upon a U.S. election pop up shop in a random tube station. I was so excited because it was the perfect engaging news peg into my story on UK reaction to the candidates.
On Sunday evening, Mina and I met up with some of my Salzburg Academy study abroad friends for dinner near Oxford Street, where the Christmas lights had just been turned on that night. It was a great to walk down such a beautiful city street and forget about the stress of the election for a night.
Monday morning, we interviewed an expert on Brexit to hear her insights into Trump-Brexit comparisons. Then, we wandered back to the tube station pop up shop, which had just opened for business that day. They had a fake voting booth, facetious t-shirts about the candidates, donuts decorated as Clinton and Trump and America themed music. Most we talked to there said they didn’t like either candidate and were glad they weren’t voting citizens who actually had to choose.
We took the train down to Bournemouth to meet with our colleagues at BU, help with their election night rehearsal and see some more of the country! It’s a beautiful beachside college town and it was nice to get out of the craziness of the city for a night. Tuesday morning it was back to London for Election Day and our nerves were off the walls.
Election 2016 and the American Embassy
Our assignment Tuesday night was to report from the American embassy in London at its election night watch party. On the tube ride to the embassy, Mina and I couldn’t contain our excitement that we’d finally see who America would choose. Still, we were sure that the next day America would have elected its first female president.
It was exciting to be among other Americans as well as Brits that evening, even when so far away from home. It was 1 a.m. London-time when polls closed here in Maryland and quickly we started to see that Trump was leading in some key swing states. I recorded hourly “look-lives” for Maryland Newsline’s live updates. Most in the embassy were Clinton supporters so the atmosphere was one of anxiety, but hopeful optimism. When Trump won Florida, Mina and I knew where this was heading.
By 3 a.m., most party guests had filed out of the media center, some to head home, some to commiserate elsewhere. We noticed three lone Trump supporters milling about, no doubt to make themselves available for interviews. Around when they called Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin for Trump, the embassy asked media the start packing up. It certainly felt a lot like, ‘our candidate is losing, nothing to see here!’
When we got outside, it was pouring rain. We mused to ourselves that the weather reflected the emotions of our friends back home and the embassy guests. We got home at 5:30 a.m. and Pennsylvania still hadn’t been called. I was too exhausted to wait for the overall call, so I went to sleep feeling confused and anxious.
ELECTION NIGHT: Europeans keep close watch on American presidential election – by Maggie Gottlieb
First Brexit, now Trump: the British feel new political quake – By Mina Haq
The Day After
Wednesday morning, we woke up and immediately felt a million emotions as we read our friends and families’ social media posts about Trump’s victory. It was a result that shocked the world, with most in our east coast circle feeling scared, hurt and angry. We headed out to get Londoners reactions, which were quite different than those at home. The general consensus was ‘shocked but not surprised.’ Many said this result was just like the UK’s Brexit and we’d just have to wait and see what kind of president Trump will be.
After we filed our stories, we got to ride the London Eye and walk around Big Ben. It was a much-needed break from all of the negativity surrounding the election results.
Time To Go Home
We headed to the airport Thursday – but didn’t feel much like coming home. The week since has been a roller coaster of emotions, especially with a lot of talk of how President-elect Trump could restrict reporters’ rights. But in the wise words of Merrill Visiting Fellow Tom Bettag, “When you have been jolted, you have to figure out how to get up and start moving forward again.” And as a journalist, that’s exactly what I intend to do.
Thank you to Merrill College and the CNS bureau chiefs for giving us this amazing overseas reporting opportunity. Despite the over-zealous speculation about what Trump’s presidency will look like, I’m incredibly excited to graduate in May and begin my professional journalism career covering his administration. It may not have been the result we expected, but that’s what makes this business so exhilarating. It’s time to get back to work.
Note: Maggie and Mina were interviewed on Fox5-DC after they returned, to talk about their experiences covering the election in London.
Photos: Maggie Gottlieb and Mina Haq.