What it was like to cover the 2016 election, as told by Daily Cal reporters

dispatches_eepstein4_file-copy
Ethan Epstein/File

Related Posts

‘We all had a job to do’

It’s hard to articulate just how utterly overwhelming covering the 2016 elections in Berkeley was. There was a mayoral race with eight candidates vying for the title. There were four open city council seats, several open rent stabilization board and school board positions. There were 12 city ballot measures and three county ballot measures. On the state level, there were 17 state propositions, and races for assembly member, state senator, U.S. representative and U.S. senator. And of course, there was the presidential election.

I had done my best to prepare our news department for what would come on Nov. 8, 2016 — I had created my spreadsheets. I was regularly updating our #electionday Slack channel. For days I had planned where our reporters and editors would be scattered across the city and campus. It wasn’t enough.

When Donald Trump’s win was called by the Associated Press, the entire focus of our department’s work shifted in an instant. Ledes were rewritten. Quotes needed to be replaced. The front page had to be redesigned. As newly elected city officials left somber victory parties early, most of the reporters and editors in the field headed towards the quickly growing protests. There was no time to process what was unfolding: We all had a job to do.

I remember waiting until the last possible moment to file my story on the winner of Berkeley’s mayoral race. At 3:13 a.m., after seven rounds of ranked-choice voting distributions, I was finally able to call it. Jesse Arreguín bested frontrunner Laurie Capitelli, the “establishment” candidate in the race, who had been endorsed by the exiting mayor and was widely considered the likely winner.

That night, there were two unexpected victories, but the political divide between the respective victors was jarringly clear even then. As the United States had just elected one of the most divisive leaders in history, Berkeley had just elected one of its most diverse the city’s first Latino mayor, and its youngest in more than a hundred years.

— Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, city news editor, fall 2016

‘What is wrong with this country?’

Standing in the midst of Jesse Arreguín’s campaign party felt like being in a parallel universe. Even though the mayoral election results had yet to be called, hopes were high, and Arreguín had a significant lead on Capitelli. People were excited, hopeful and a little bit tipsy.

Meanwhile, CNN and AP had just called the presidential election, but no one in the room seemed to know. It is safe to say that not a single person present was even mildly conservative, so I was surprised by the lack of emotion. After thinking about it more, I realized that these people had different priorities than most, as they had their own campaigns to worry about. Also, I suspect they were pretty convinced Hillary had it in the bag.  

Unsure what to do, I checked my phone and saw a text from my editors asking me to get a quote from Arreguín on Trump. I took my time walking over to him, wondering if he had any idea what I was about to tell him and feeling a little bit guilty that I might sour his night.

I approached him, and he immediately said, “Brenna, it’s too soon to say anything. I’ll come talk to you once we know more.”

I quickly apologized and said I actually didn’t want to talk about this election. I asked if he knew that several news outlets had already called the presidential election, if he knew that Trump was going to be the next president of the United States.

We sat in silence for what felt like an eternity until he finally looked at me with genuine shock in his eyes and replied, “What is wrong with this country?”

— Brenna Smith, assistant news editor, fall 2016

Mikaela Raphael/File

Mikaela Raphael/File

‘I do not know how the editorial board found its voice in that moment’

In the editor in chief’s office, on the wall across from the desk hangs The Daily Californian’s 2008 Election Day issue. “Believe It,” it proclaims on the front cover, and the back page holds a hopeful staff editorial. An anonymous person’s photo stands waving the American flag, a smile overtaking her face.

Eight years later, I was the opinion editor charged with writing the staff editorial as Trump, great lakes states in hand, catapulted into the White House.

Finding the words to express emotions is always a writer’s most difficult task. In one of the most emotionally charged elections, it’s only more difficult. To this day, I do not know how the editorial board found its voice in that moment.

Every once in awhile, I reopen my Google Doc draft for the “Clinton Wins” editorial. It’s short — maybe just a sentence, because I procrastinated. But I cannot get myself to delete it and forever erase a future that will never be.    

— Karim Doumar, opinion editor, fall 2016

‘I ran to the front of the protest and began taking pictures’

Although I was a news reporter at the time, I had my camera on me the night of the election.

When it became clear Donald Trump had won, some students went home, but others linked arms and began marching down Telegraph Avenue. Not seeing any other Daily Cal photographers around, I ran to the front of the protest and began taking pictures.

After we crossed into Oakland, I watched in horror as students moved from the main road onto Highway 24. They rushed the highway, intending to form a human chain — but it was after midnight, and without lights, oncoming cars couldn’t see them. In the chaos, one car hit a student.

She lay motionless, covered in blood in the middle of the highway, and her friends rushed to her side. I was only a matter of yards away. After she was taken away in an ambulance, the protest continued. Hours later, when I got home, I cried for the first time that night.

— Maya Eliahou, news reporter, fall 2016

‘I sat down with a bowl of cereal and cried’

When Donald Trump won the election, I was a freshman surrounded by a large room of somber 50-year-olds — the remnants of Laurie Capitelli’s viewing party after the results came out.

The mayoral candidate had lost the city election, and most of the viewing party felt as though they had lost the country.

When I think of Nov. 8, I see these faces of shocked city politicians, hopeful students and concerned co-reporters. I see hundreds of fiery students marching down Telegraph Avenue. I see the protesters trying to block the highway. I see the girl getting hit by a car, and I remember feeling horrified.

In each of these moments, however, it was not about how I felt, but about how I reported. So my memories for Election Day and the year that followed have been shaped by my reporting experiences. In one year, we have covered not only protests, but also every new federal policy that has directly affected the University of California and UC Berkeley.

When I got home on Election Day, about 3 a.m., after following protesters to Oakland, I sat down with a bowl of cereal and cried. In that moment, I realized that my college career would be historically characterized by one figure, and for every step of the way, I would be there reporting, capturing his impact on Berkeley.

— Malini Ramaiyer, news reporter, fall 2016

Mikaela Raphael/File

Mikaela Raphael/File

‘It was late in the night before I looked up’

I kept an eye on Twitter, compiling tweets as local Berkeley election results rolled in while I called sources for reactions on California’s impending legalization of recreational marijuana. It was late in the night before I looked up. As national results poured in, finishing my story about weed became increasingly difficult — it just seemed less important.

In the subsequent days and weeks, the gravity of that moment in history, and a need to record it, stood out to me the most. My instinct to record — to hoard information for posterity — is why I’m a reporter in the first place. But after Nov. 8, 2016, I turned to a different type of preservation, one that looked inward: I couldn’t just record what was happening. I needed to sort through my own thoughts.

Exactly one week after the election, I sat in the Daily Cal’s small conference room for a class I taught to new reporters on the fundamentals of journalism. And I asked them to write and reflect: Where were they that Tuesday night, and what did they feel?

— Suhauna Hussain, online managing editor, fall 2016

‘Our Trump draft was nowhere near ready’

I was at my desk Nov. 8, polishing my advance draft on Hillary Clinton’s presidential victory, when I noticed reporters crowding around a screen to watch the live election results. I joined them and began to realize that my article would never print.

Our Trump draft was nowhere near ready. The pre-election polls had told us not to sweat it, so we hadn’t. But as more states turned red on CNN’s map, the Clinton draft was abandoned, and focus quickly shifted toward the man who was looking ever more like the nation’s next president. I raced over to the Berkeley College Republicans’ viewing party in a campus classroom, where the mood had evolved from downtrodden to delighted.

Little did I know that I was witnessing a turning point for BCR members and, more broadly, for Trump supporters everywhere, who now felt empowered to burst out of the shadows and voice pride in their candidate. Once they grew confident enough that the election would go their way, they marched to Sproul Plaza, sporting red shirts and “Make America Great Again” caps. They chanted, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” as other students’ eyes welled with tears.

It seemed like such a small fleet of red in a vast sea of blue at the time. In hindsight, I see that wasn’t true at all.

— Andrea Platten, managing editor, fall 2016

‘The crowded office was pretty damn near silent’

As the then-Night Editor at the Daily Cal, I stayed at the office all Election Night 2016 and well into the next morning.

A centrally located computer streamed results flowing in from around the country, keeping us updated as we prepared the special Election Issue. Anyone who’s ever been to the Daily Cal office knows you’d be hard-pressed to find a time when the mayhem and noise abate. But for a few minutes in the early hours of Nov. 9 when the election results were confirmed, the crowded office was pretty damn near silent.

I had a front-row seat, kneeling on a swivel chair a few feet from the computer as Donald Trump delivered his victory speech — confirming the admittedly surprising (to me, at least) fact that he would indeed be the next U.S. president. Then we went back to work, and the strangely comforting din in the office resumed as usual. News never sleeps, after all, and neither do student-journalists.

— Kayla Kettmann, night editor, fall 2016

Contact The Daily Californian News Staff at [email protected].

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy