Covering the election like the morning dew
Thursday, October 15, 2015 @ 3:45 AM
By Bill Phillips
As a journalist, election nights are usually a lot of fun.
Like the candidates, election night marks the end of a lot of work. We would always divvy up the camps and, sometimes, twist arms to see who would cover which camp.
On election night, it doesn’t matter who you voted for, you want to be the winning camp … even if it’s the candidate you hate and skewered throughout the election.
The winning camp is always more fun. They’re going to party. The losing camp, well, it’s usually depressing, especially if they call the election 15 minutes after the polls close.
Close elections, however, are a different story.
For writers, it’s all about the drama and on election night there will be plenty of drama.
There will be joy, and there will be tears … much of it done with a journalist’s microphone or camera there to record everything.
In the winner’s camp, everyone is happy to see the media there. In the loser’s camp … well, it’s probably your fault as to why their candidate lost. It can get uncomfortable. I do remember getting reamed out by one candidate on election night, right in front of a room full of campaign workers. And he had just won. I was there to congratulate him and get a few quotes. Instead, he launched into a tirade about my coverage. I’d hate to see what he’d have been like had he lost.
Back when newspapers ruled the day, so did deadlines. And they were real deadlines.
One time I convinced the powers that be that the election results would be in by 9 p.m., we’d have our story done by 9:30 and the paper would be on the press by 9:35. Well, it was a squeaker and they didn’t announce a winner until 11:45 p.m. And that was back in the film days. Not only did a reporter have to rush back to the office and write the story, the photographer had to develop a roll or two of film and then we’d put everything together. Nowadays, reporters can post a photo from their phone and tweet all night long.
That late, late election night, the pressroom and the mailroom, who were on time-and-a-half at 8 p.m. didn’t mind, but I did have some explaining to do in the publisher’s office the next day. Goes without saying, the overtime came out of my budget.
The 1996 provincial election was one such squeaker and, faced with the prospect of going to press before a decision was reached, Victoria Times editor Cindy Harnett ran the headline “GC wins provincial election.” The election, of course, was being contested by Glen Clark and Gordon Campbell. The story explained how they didn’t have a result. But the headline was accurate.
Sometimes you have to think on your feet.
While the Internet has changed things, it does provide different ways to cover the election.
One year, at the Free Press, we ran a live, interactive feed on our website all night long. Using software called CoverItLive, we basically gave a running commentary on the election. Viewers of the website could add their two cents worth as well. Kind of like a radio call-in show. It was tricky to operate and we didn’t get to rest for a second, but it was really a lot of fun.
We’ll be doing all again on Monday night. If you see us, give us a smile and a wave. We’re there to do a job.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org