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What It Was Really Like to Cover the 2016 Election

In our 9–5 series, we ask our favourite boss babes what a day in the office entails. This week, Vox.com reporter—and host of the viral video series 2016ish—Liz Plank gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

Election reporter

Liz Plank sits down with Justin Trudeau

Age: 29
Education: Bachelors of arts in women’s studies and international development from McGill University; masters in social policy from the London School of Economics
Length of time at current gig: 11 months

Did you have any idea that this was how 2016 was going to go? By the time I joined Vox in February, it was clear that it was going to be a wacky election year, but I don’t think we imagined just how crazy it would get. 2016 was the worst—let’s just all agree—and it’s weird that my first show at Vox is about what was probably the worst year I’ve ever experienced. So, yeah, it’s been bittersweet.

What was the original idea behind 2016ish? I wanted to look at 2016 and the election, but instead of putting the cameras on the candidates, we put them on the people—the ones who are often left out of the conversation, and who have the most at stake.

Did the series evolve over the year as things got crazier and crazier? For sure. After the convention, I was burnt out, super sick of the election, and honestly a bit depressed. My boss was out of town and I was like, “I don’t want to cover the election this week, let’s just do a thing about the Olympics.” We decided to rate Olympic sexism as if it was a sport—and I actually thought I would get fired. It was a scripted sketch and unlike anything I had ever done. Then it got 10 million views.

What did you like about doing that type of scripted content? It made people happy. People were laughing during a year where it was really hard to laugh.

When did you realize that the election might not go how we all thought it would? The night of the election, around 9:30 p.m. It was like the rug was pulled out from us. I had two videos about Trump losing and no videos about him winning. I was so convinced. We were all so convinced that it was not possible. I still have to remember that he’s the president. It feels crazy, like a social experiment.

We watched this unfold from Canada. Is there anything you think that we missed? There’s a different kind of media ecosystem in Canada that really doesn’t accept bullshit. When I go home to Montreal and watch Canadian television, I’m like, “Oh my god, this is so nuanced. It’s so nice!” It’s really one-dimensional in the States. The only thing is that I think Canadians underestimated Trump—which everyone did even in the U.S.—and how many people have racist, xenophobic beliefs and follow through on them by supporting a candidate like Trump.

You interviewed Justin Trudeau on 2016ish. What’s your take on him? A lot of people don’t like that I’m so open about the fact that I’m a big fan of him as a politician. I feel like we often only talk about Canada when weird shit happens, like Rob Ford or all the buses bump into each other in Montreal; otherwise, no one really cares. And I feel like Canada remains one of the only examples of a successful liberalism, where we see diversity as a source of strength instead of weakness. Where we openly accept more refugees, not less. With Justin Trudeau’s leadership, Canada has really taken a lead in how you treat people. A lot of people say it’s just talk—but what our politicians say, and the messages that they present, shape policy, culture and the way that people act. It makes me hopeful and optimistic as a Canadian.

What are some of the things he’s done that make you hopeful and optimistic? His position on women, and the place he’s given women in his cabinet, and the normalcy of it. His answer—“Because it’s 2016”—is sort of an answer for many of his positions. Changing the national anthem to make it gender neutral, speaking out about First Nation women and what needs to change, that’s powerful. I’ve spent so much time listening to politicians, especially male politicians, not mention women. It’s so nice to hear someone not just view women as equal but as necessary.

Election reporter

 

What interview from 2016 had the greatest impact on you personally? I went to a disability conference in California right before the conventions. Polls showed that Donald Trump mocking a disabled reporter was one of the worst things he had done, and yet not a single person was on CNN or MSNBC to respond to it. I wanted to seek out those voices. At the conference, I spoke with this young girl who, I learned after our conversation, was disabled due to a suicide attempt. When I asked how Trump’s actions made her feel, she broke down and cried—and I broke down with her. It was such an emotional moment. “My biggest bully is a man running for president,” was her main message. It made me so angry that no one had heard this reaction. No one had sought out these voices. That was the most important interview of the year for me.

Trump was recently named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. What’s your take? There are so many people who have done great things this year that could’ve been highlighted, and it feels really weird to choose Donald Trump when he needs no highlighting. It feels like they’re normalizing him, glamourizing him, and giving him exactly what he wants. The media needs to take risks, and this just didn’t feel like a risk.

2016 was a rough year for women, but did anything happen that you’d consider a big step forward? We got to see a woman run for president. It was incredibly powerful for me and young girls to be able to see that, even though it gave us a master class in sexism in politics, and how women are covered and treated differently than men. We can’t underestimate what Hillary Clinton has done, even though she didn’t win. Her campaign is historic. Every crack brings us closer to breaking that glass ceiling.

What do you think 2017 has in store for us? I try not to think about it too much because I get hives, but I think it’s going to be much worse than we’ve even entertained. What I’m trying to do in preparation for 2017 is what I wish I had done in preparation for 2016: Expect the unexpected. In 2016, the media did not take what Donald Trump represents seriously and basically focused on the best-case scenario. What I want to do is focus on the worst-case scenario, which I don’t think is unrealistic given who Trump has proven himself to be, and what he’s said he wants to do.

Since your web series is called 2016ish, what are the plans for next year? I’m coming out with a few more videos to finish up the series, but I’m also in the phase of preparing for our next show. There’s no name yet, but we will continue to mix scripted content with original ways of telling stories and some more serious content. My goal is pretty much not to leave Donald Trump alone.

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