June 5, 2024

Kehillah alumnus Henry Kofman takes photographs as members of the Los Angeles Police Department move across the University of Southern California campus to clear the “Gaza Solidarity Occupation” encampment just past 4:00 AM on May 5. (Alan Mittelstaedt, USC)

After walking across the Kehillah graduation stage last year, I was eager to spend a semester in London, which would then be followed by my start at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. But I don’t want to talk about London and, what will come as a surprise to many of you who know me, I don’t want to discuss cinema. I want to talk about journalism. 


I have enjoyed photography for a long time and started to take it more seriously in Ms. Chouhan’s Photo II class during my senior year. So when I started at USC, I applied to work at the Daily Trojan, the university’s student newspaper. I had a great semester at DT, photographing a wide array of people and events, from breaking news to Steven Spielberg to RuPaul and so much more. I moved up the ranks and positions as the DT Undergraduate Student Government beat photographer and then Deputy News Photo Editor.


While protests and demonstrations had been happening all year, things started to get more frequent and mainstream when USC Provost Andrew Guzman announced that the valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, would no longer be speaking at graduation. This decision led to the ‘release’ of all outside speakers and eventually, on April 24, pro-Palestinian protesters decided to set up a “Gaza Solidarity Occupation” encampment in Alumni Park. Later that day, the Los Angeles Police Department was called in and 93 arrests were made. Suddenly, this wasn’t your average student journalism. 


After the events of April 24, USC canceled its main commencement ceremony and decided to completely close its campus to all non-students or faculty. This meant the DT and Annenberg Media were the only outlets getting reports out about what was happening on campus. Because of this, national media turned their attention to us in a way that they hadn’t before. I did interviews with The Nation, KNX News Radio, LAist, LA Public Press, ABC7, NBC4, CBS, CNN, and more as well as talking to reporters from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Associated Press, and more. Our photos were being seen by a wide array of new audiences, and there was a greater responsibility on us as journalists to share what was happening.


As I am sure you know, this occupation protest wasn’t unique to USC as encampments, protests, counter-protests, police intervention, and general turmoil were on campuses across the nation. As someone who had been admiring the work of other student papers prior to these events, I saw the opportunity to bring together the work of photojournalists from around the country. Out of that came a collaborative photo essay titled In Photos: A nation shaken by camps for Gaza, which I highly recommend you check out.


This semester at the DT has taught me a lot. If I had to spell it out, I would say I have learned:

  • What it means to be a journalist and to tell a story, especially through photos.
  • How to represent all sides of an issue and try to present the most holistic view of it all. 
  • There is a lot of information that is factually true, but once we publish, that information is in the public and these truths can get blurry. A lot of people only see the truths that benefit them. This has led to all sorts of accusations in journalism; we get comments on the DT Instagram both accusing us of being funded by the IDF and Hamas, all while we are trying to give a just accurate view of what is happening.
  • Journalism is about truth, it is about conveying to an audience what is going on.

USC Department of Public Safety officers detain a protester on April 24, just hours after the "Gaza Solidarity Occupation" encampment had first been set up in Alumni Park. (Henry Kofman, Daily Trojan)

Looking unbiased and holistically at a story is something I have felt like I have been able to do much better when working as a photojournalist. When I take a photo, it is to capture a moment in time and a truthful one. I know that my photo will be a representation of events to the DT’s many readers, our 27K+ Instagram followers, and now even wider audiences. To end my first semester of photojournalism, I had the privilege to have my photo published in TIME Magazine, running with their cover story.


So my parting message is, in this time of one upset after another, to try and be a journalist for yourself. Check your own information and frame your pictures to tell the truth. 


Sincerely,

Henry Kofman

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