APPM: Covering the Trump White House

By Emily Kohlman, Penn State University

Flashing images on a screen from her coverage of President Donald Trump and his administration, Associated Press staff photographer Carolyn Kaster led off one of the first events of the 2017 News Leadership Conference on Monday morning.

“Stepping out from the camera is not my natural habitat,” Kaster said to the nearly 40 journalists gathered to learn what covering the Trump administration is like.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the White House, to say the least,” she said, emphasizing how political coverage there has turned into a “firehose of news.”

This “firehose” gives Kaster and other journalists many coverage opportunities, and she said they should be prepared for each of these moments, something she calls finding the “action sentence.”

Kaster, who has spent eight of her nearly 15 years as a photojournalist in the nation’s capital, said  it is important for photojournalists to be ready and informed about “who the players are” to tell the story accurately.

With the Trump administration, she said, everything is unpredictable, so planning and being prepared with her equipment are important.

As Kaster showed images of the different moments that she captured — ranging from the White House enveloped in the misty darkness to a pensive shot of Trump sucking in a deep breath while leaving the podium — she told the audience that each photograph tells a unique story and shows a new perspective.

“The White House, for me, is a character in the story. I always look at it, trying to see it differently,” Kaster said. This symbol of presidential power, she said, along with Air Force One, is an element that she incorporates into the background to capture “part of the stage” and prestige behind the U.S. presidency.

Kaster explained the importance of seizing moments with “a little juice,” ones that display animation.

“[Trump] isn’t always yelling. He does have a wide range of reactions and faces, and what we are trying to do is give people an idea of what this person is — not just those moments specifically presented,” she said.

Although Trump “acknowledges the press quite a bit,” Kaster said, the crowd at his 100th-day rally on April 29 in Harrisburg, Pa., called her and other journalists “really bad names.”

“To have a crowd turn to you and yell at you… I’d never felt that. It made my arms hurt,” Kaster said. “And it stung.”

Kaster said that knowing a lot of people who support Trump and a lot of people who do not provides her with political rhetoric coming from both sides.

“It gives my work purpose if I can help people see each other — that, maybe, information is power,” she said.

Emily Kohlman is a senior at Penn State University.

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