Reporting While Black: Journalists Share Candid Experiences Covering the Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol

By NewsVision reporter Makailah Gause, photojournalist Evin Guilford and writer MeKayla Pierre 

The Howard University Department of Media, Journalism and Film and the Howard University Association of Black Journalists hosted the latest installment of the “Reporting While Black” series. The Panel featured four Washington, DC journalists who covered the January 6, 2021 attack on democracy at the U.S. Capitol. In a very transparent conversation, the journalists shared how they put themselves in peril to cover the story, and how the events affected them in the days and months that followed. NewsVision reporter Makailah Gause and photojournalist Evin Guilford spoke to them about why collegiate journalists need to hear these stories.


Journalists Recall a ‘Wave of People Full of Fury’ at the Insurrection

By MeKayla Pierre

Howard University News Service

A panel of four Black journalists who reported on the Jan. 6 insurrection described their experiences being at the center of the attack on the Capitol, as well as the dangers they faced while doing so.

The discussion, “Reporting While Black: The Jan. 6 Attack of Democracy,” explored the day in 2021 when Donald Trump incited thousands of his supporters to storm the Capitol after losing the presidential election to Joe Biden.

This event led to the House of Representatives establishing the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. This committee was tasked with conducting interviews, holding public hearings and gathering evidence of malicious intent behind the insurrection.

The audience consisted mostly of Howard University students from the Cathy Hughes School of Communication.
(MeKayla Pierre/HUNewsService.com)

Moderated by Stacey Patton, Ph.D., journalist and Howard University assistant professor, the discussion was orchestrated by the Department of Media, Journalism and Film in collaboration with the Howard University Association of Black Journalists.

Patton started the conversation on a more personal note with the panelists sharing how the day of the attack began for each of them. Keith Alexander, journalist at the Washington Post, recalled that his day started by volunteering to cover protests at the Black Lives Matter Plaza on 16th Street.

“So, the morning of Jan. 6, I’m putting on a bulletproof vest, these goggles and a hat, but nothing that said media,” Alexander said. “Years ago, we would have. But today, no, we don’t wear anything that will let people know that we were reporters, because we’d have been targeted.”

Cheriss May, photojournalist and former Howard lecturer, had the opposite experience. “I’ve worked at the Capitol so many times that I thought, ‘This is going to be a normal ceremonial day,’” May recalled.

Tia Mitchell, journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, revealed that she created a digital record of what transpired that day. “So, I live-tweeted the whole day, and the first thing I tweeted was that, when I finally tried to drive into the Capitol, everything was shut down,” she said.


Patton then inquired if, while in the moment, the panelists had ever considered leaving the scene when the risk of harm became more apparent.

“It really was just a wave of people full of fury, full of anger, full of rage,” Alexander said. “I wasn’t afraid; I was curious. I wasn’t, and I should have been maybe, but I wasn’t afraid.”

“I won’t say I was scared,” Hamil Harris, journalist for the Washington Informer and Howard lecturer, chimed in. “But, I mean, I’ve been through Sept. 11, all the worst. And I knew that I was in the crowd where all the tough people were.”

Patton then asked them about their methods for decompressing and regulating their emotions.

“I thought I was fine,” Alexander responded. “I thought I was good. You know, this is, this is what I do. I run, I run to the fires, I run to the shooting and all that. But then I watched the hearings, and they played the video, and I was like, talk about trauma. It hit me. That’s when it hit me like, oh.”

When the floor was eventually opened for questions from the audience, a long line of students quickly formed by the stage.

As the discussion came to a close, Alexander shared a piece of advice with the aspiring journalists in the audience. “I believe journalism is a calling,” he said. “It’s not for everyone. And a situation like this is where you find out, ‘Is this for me?’”

His words of wisdom affirmed for one junior journalism student, Alana Matthew, that she was indeed on the right path.

“My biggest takeaway was probably that this was actually my calling,” Matthew said. “Hearing all the trauma that they went through and like how they kind of maneuvered and navigated that, it solidified in me that I want to be a journalist. It really solidified my passion for journalism. So, I’m glad I came.”

MeKayla Pierre is a reporter for HUNewsService.com.

WITNESSES TO HISTORY: Ingrid Sturgis, chair of the Department of Media, Journalism and Film; Gracie Lawson-Borders, Ph.D., dean of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications; Tia Mitchell, Washington correspondent for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Dr. Stacey Patton, moderator; Keith Alexander, reporter at the Washington Post; Professor Jennifer Thomas, Journalism Sequence Coordinator; Cheriss May, photojournalist; and Hamil Harris, reporter for the Washington Informer. (MeKayla Pierre/HUNewsService.com)