College students tackle live election coverage

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Education reporter
  • November 11, 2008 @ 3:00 PM

Students at three colleges in Chicago got a unique on-camera chance to report on last week’s historic election thanks to an ongoing partnership among the schools.

Dozens of undergraduate students from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Columbia College and Kennedy-King College helped anchor, report and produce a live, one-hour election night show that focused on the youth vote and featured live reports from students in Grant Park.

“This is kind of exciting,” says Arthur Wood, the general manager of the PBS station WYCC, which is based at Kennedy-King and broadcast the show. “There were students in front of the camera, there were students behind the cameras. They wrote their own packages and shot them.”

Frankie Jupiter, a broadcast journalism major at Columbia, says the high level of energy on election night made anchoring the live show a completely different experience compared to the college newscasts he usually anchors.

The studio, on the 15th floor of one of Columbia's buildings, is across the street from Grant Park.

"Just to look out over Studio A and see the crowds of people and the stage set up (in the park), it was one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen before," Jupiter says.

Working with two other colleges on the election night show was something new for him, too.

"It wasn't like it was a regular newscast," he says. "This was where anything could happen and you didn't know what the decision was going to be."

The show, which ran from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Election night included student news anchors from all three colleges and stories reported and edited by students. One reporter from Northwestern and one from Columbia reported live on the gathering crowd at Michigan Avenue and Harrison Street, close to Columbia’s studio. Behind the scenes, dozens of students operated cameras, controlled graphics and worked on the nuts and bolts of the live show.

This isn’t the first time the schools have worked together, though it was one of the few times they have collaborated on a live show. Each week, students at Northwestern record a news show that is broadcast on WYCC on Sunday nights. And as early as 1998, Medill students made a live election night webcast.

“There’s nothing like doing live TV,” says Medill professor Larry Stuelpnagel, “and there’s nothing like doing an election show because that’s live TV on steroids.”

Viewers reacted positively, too, says Wood. One person called in to say they hoped the young reporters on the show would “do a better job than the current crop” of professional journalists.

This year’s election show went smoothly, Stuelpnagel and Wood says, even with switching among reporters and anchors at each of the three schools.

“I would put that show both in content and in execution up against anything in a solid media market,” Stuelpnagel says.

Video from the election night show should be posted later today on WYCC’s Web site, Wood says.

Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist. He covers higher education for the Daily News.