Election night can be hell for those of us in the media. Not only the night itself, but the preparation.
Tuesday night I had the opportunity to do something on election night Iâ€™ve never done before while working in this business: observe.
And I was pleasantly amazed and quietly pleased by what I witnessed.
Since 1975, as news director, anchor, and reporter for television stations up and down the Central Coast, I can tell you that election night starts long before the votes come in and the parties start up.
Given the resources you have, and there arenâ€™t all that many, broadcast journalists have to deal with the following, and this is just the tip of the iceberg: which reporters will be covering what issues or candidates, how we air our local coverage in conjunction with that of the networkâ€™s national coverage, how much are we able to cover, what our set and graphics will look like, whether our results on the screen will match what the correspondent in the field is presenting, where weâ€™ll send our one or two live units, what we will present at five and six when nothing is happening unless itâ€™s to tell you where we will be, who our political analyst will be, what to leave for the morning show, what kind of food to get for the crew, and the most difficult, what we think is going to happen. All this money, all this time, all these resources for one thing and one thing only: results. On election night, all people want to know is who won and who lost.
Well, after all these years I still find myself very much involved in election night coverage, this time around as managing editor of the New Times weekly newspaper, which did something it has never done before, at least as far as I know. Rather than waiting for Wednesday to make calls for responses of the politicos for reaction on the outcome, we decided to go out and get the drama, energy, and spirit of election night on the Central Coast. This was not necessarily due to my influence as a broadcaster. A collective decision within the editorial department was made before I could even pass it by the boss.
So, once again, back into that fray of who goes where to cover what.
It was my job to oversee all this while walking to the various political hot spots and parties spread throughout downtown San Luis Obispo.
First stop, about 7:30, was the county courthouse, which was its usual hive of election night activity, but not like courthouses in the past, where all the candidates and all the media would meet. But I did notice something unusual upon walking through the doors: the bright lights of public-access television, conducting live interviews with those involved with the political scene.
A few feet away was another surprise: CPTV, Cal Poly Television, was in action, with students behind a makeshift set, â€œlearning by doingâ€? in the strictest sense of the universityâ€™s heralded phrase. Not far away, reporters from KVEC-AM radio were seeking out anyone worth interviewing. Having at one time worked with both, I know what an effort was made given sparse resources and difficult demands.
I expected to see local TV at the courthouse, which I did in the presence of a live crew from KSBY, getting cell-phone directions from the hill. By the way, there once were nights like these without cell phones. Think about it.
As the polls closed, I went off to the county clerkâ€™s office, where the votes were starting to be tabulated. Youâ€™d never know it was election night by the way clerk-recorder Julie Rodewald was directing things. That woman is one of the most serene and accommodating people Iâ€™ve ever met, especially when election night is young and volunteers start to rumble.
Also beginning to build up steam were the candidate celebration (even in defeat) parties, and there were many to visit downtown. Blakeslee, Jenkins, Hutchings, Pinard, Romero, Mulholland, Brown, and Andreen all had various venues.
Some, like Blakeslee and Romero, were hoisting an early toast. Others, like Mulholland, were happy but saying things like, â€œIâ€™m glad I won but I wish I had come in first.â€?
Print, TV, and radio were outside and inside, getting immediate responses of reaction and relief. By the way, TV is no longer the choice for viewing local election results. Why wait when you can go to a web site that offers up-to-the-minute returns projected on a big screen?
The atmosphere of the evening was enhanced by the national picture. No matter where you went or whom you talked to, everyone seemed to be looking over your shoulder for the top ticket item of the night: Bush or Kerry?
But from where I stood, Washington seemed so far away. I was too caught up by what was going on around me, right here, in San Luis Obispo. The winners were ecstatic, the losers discouraged; all were very relieved, and most everyone was grateful to play a part in it.
Caputuring all this â€¦ the local media with perhaps more fire in its belly than ever.
Sure, you know Iâ€™m going to toot my own horn for New Times, but Iâ€™ll toot it as well for all the efforts made by my colleagues in print and broadcast whose business it is to cover local news not because they have to, but because they really want to. Â³
King Harris is the managing editor of New Times.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.