Election night viewing, GJR-style

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True confession: Gateway Journalism Review’s staff is made up of political junkies with long traditions of monitoring election-evening results. Our own political media monitoring likely mirrors that of much of the American population. So, at the risk of being too introspective, here is how GJR staffers spent Tuesday evening.

John Jarvis, associate managing editor:

This time around, there was no newsroom chaos, no page-layout duties and no late-night deadlines for me.

On the night of this year’s presidential election, I headed over to a gathering of friends after my master’s seminar was done for the evening.

Eight of us were flipping between channels on television, trying to catch the latest news on how the race was panning out, while at the same time all of us were carrying on a running Facebook chat commentary with a larger group of friends from across the nation. The technology that allowed us to be connected with each other in real time, sharing each tidbit from the various news sites we were monitoring, didn’t exist even four years ago.

It was a far cry from the first presidential race I was involved with as a journalist, when I was an assistant wire editor gathering information from the Associated Press for the next day’s newspaper in 1988.

Part of me misses that newsroom chaos and deadline pressure that goes with these quadrennial contests. Other parts of me – my nerves and my liver, in particular – don’t miss it at all.

Sam Robinson, managing editor:

Initially, I tried to check election results online. However, living in a rural setting, my Internet connection is often interrupted because of weather conditions and high-volume usage – and we had both. I turned to television network news and social media via my mobile phone.

My channel surfing included a rotation through Fox News, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS. Several of the broadcasts comprised anchors and pundits talking over one another and not listening to what was being said. This frustrated me. I finally landed on CBS News around 10 p.m. I found its coverage to be in a traditional journalistic style that I appreciated. Bob Schieffer provided context and perspective, having covered many elections.

I first learned President Obama had been declared the winner via Twitter, specifically in a tweet from BBC News. (Actually, I first “heard” of the Obama win from my 14-year-old daughter who shouted, “Obama won!” Despite her youth, she had taken a keen interest in the Missouri U.S. Senate race between Democrat incumbent Claire McCaskill and her challenger, Todd Akin, and stayed up late watching election results.)

I was following BBC and Global Post news organizations, as well as several entertainers on Twitter. One such entertainer was Lady Gaga. Gaga had posts throughout the day about polling locations in New York and the East Coast, as well as her election-night thoughts. I suspect many learned of the Obama victory via Lady Gaga, given her more than 31 million Twitter followers, which is quite impressive considering organizations such as BBC Breaking News has 4.3 million and CBS just 2.2 million followers.

William A. Babcock, editor:

I come from a divided family. My father was Republican ward chairman from Northern Ohio. My mother was an ardent FDR supporter. In 1960 my father personally routed GOP Henry Cabot Lodge’s caravan down Lake Road in Avon Lake, Ohio, so I could shake the hand of “the future vice president of the United States.” Eight years later I passed out of college freshman English by writing an essay – obviously not overly persuasive – enumerating the reasons why Richard M. Nixon was unqualified to be president. Add to this mix the fact that a Philadelphia signer of the U.S. Constitution, George Clymer, is a relative of mine. So, yes, American politics clearly runs through my veins.

Thus, as I’ve done since the days I was a young general assignment reporter for the Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio) and senior international news editor and writing coach for the Christian Science Monitor, I spent election eve phoning people from across the nation. Former journalism workers, current academic colleagues, one-time students, my daughter – none were spared from my Tuesday “what do you think of the results so far?” phone calls.

At the same time on Tuesday I bounced between PBS and NBC and NPR. Like Sam Robinson, I had difficulty accessing the Internet that evening, so I relied on the traditional media for my political news. I first heard of AP’s and NBC’s projection while on my cell phone with a former news college as I watched PBS. I later fell asleep while listening to WSIU’s radio updates (the local National Public Radio affiliate) on voting in the swing states of Ohio and Florida.

I should add that during this semester at Southern Illinois University’s School of Journalism, my undergraduate and graduate classes have been divided into groups of students, with group members monitoring the political coverage of specific news organizations. When I asked these students Tuesday how they planned to monitor the election results, everyone, with one exception, said he or she would use a variety of broadcast, cable and online media that evening. The lone student said he planned to go to bed early Tuesday, set his alarm for Wednesday morning and then turn on the radio to see who had won the race.

William H. Freivogel, publisher:

I’ve covered just about every election night for the past 40 years, most of them at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. One – 1984 – was particularly memorable. My wife, Margaret, and I had been covering vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro that year. We had traveled on her plane enough to get to know her pretty well. On election night, we packed up our four young children at our house in Bethesda, Md., and traveled to her campaign celebration/wake at the New York Hilton hotel, where Margie covered the story.

As memorable as that election was, I have never lived through a night like this year’s. I am a contributor to the St. Louis Beacon, the online news site where my wife is the editor. I was only too happy when the Beacon asked me to help on election night. But it was a different scene than usual. The Beacon’s television partner was filming in the newsroom. The Beacon was part of a public media consortium called Beyond November that provided detailed coverage of the election campaign and results. The other members of the consortium were St. Louis Public Radio and the Nine Network.

While the Beacon reporters were writing their stories, TV reporters from the Nine Network and Channel 5 were conducting interviews a few feet away from where I was working. Adding to the chaos, Beacon reporters monitoring Twitter feeds would urgently pass along the latest tweets – NBC had called Pennsylvania for Obama; Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin was about to give a concession speech. These tweets were not themselves credible enough for us to publish, but they were valuable tips.

Meanwhile, I was getting messages on my cell phone. The messages from my nephew, a conservative Republican, went from slightly hopeful to depressed to despondent. My son-in-law, who was in Atlanta, sent a note saying that national TV had just broadcast a picture of Margie, sitting in the newsroom. A friend of mine sent me an email telling me to stop picking my nose – his not-so-gentle way of saying he had seen me on the tube.

When, suddenly, NBC called the election for Obama, I heard about it the way I’ve heard about most elections in my lifetime – on TV. Moments later my daughter, Liz, sent a simple message, “Yay.”

I was stunned by NBC’s call. The sudden reporting of the West Coast results along with the decisions to call Ohio and Iowa had suddenly sent a nail-biter over the edge to a decision. All I could remember was the nightmare election night of 2000 when the Post-Dispatch, like most other papers, had called the election for George W. Bush. We had retired to a nearby tavern only to see the election move from “decided” to “undecided.” It was the most helpless feeling I had ever had as a journalist.

Pretty soon, though, it became clear that this election would not flip, even if one state did. By 2 a.m., I was crawling into bed. For the past two months I have spent about half an hour before falling to sleep checking all of the RealClear politics polls on my cell phone, reading Nate Silver’s 538 blog and running through the political stories on the New York Times and the Washington Post. Before the St. Louis Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs, I’d also check all of the ball scores and the standings as well. My wife thought it was a little obsessive.

But now, my 2012 election, full of tweets and blogs and late nights on the cell phone, was over. My phone was dark on the nightstand. But pitchers and catchers report in February, and I was happy to see that, two days after the election, Politico already was reporting a poll out of Iowa finding that Hillary Clinton had a big lead on Joe Biden for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

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