Editor’s note: Emily Barske is the editor in chief of the Iowa State Daily, the independent student newspaper at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. This is the first in a series showcasing student publications and how they’ve covered one of the most unique elections in United States history.
Our top editorial leaders left the newsroom at 3:30 a.m. on election night.
The 11-hour production consisted of multi-platform coverage of all elections from the local to national level affecting our coverage area. Staffers did everything from making one or two calls to get community leaders’ reactions, to taking photos at watch parties, to Snapchatting or live tweeting results as they came in and putting together all the pieces to create content.
Coverage of election night started much before coming in for our regular production that night and lasted much longer than 3:30 a.m.
Covering election night
The Daily’s news editor of politics and administration, Alex Connor, led the charge on our election coverage, planning it out weeks in advance — even creating a packet for staff called “The Ultimate Election Night Guide to Doing Election Night.” She assigned reporters, designers, the digital editor and the visuals editors to certain tasks more than a month before election night.
We had graphics prepared that helped us visually show maps and percentages important for readers to understand our coverage. We gathered up photos of candidates for all the races we were going to cover. We prepared two front pages and two editorials on the opinion page: one if Clinton won and one if Trump won.
The non-election pages were all done before 8 p.m. so there was some downtime as we waited for the results to start flooding in. At just before 1 a.m. a slight panic overtook the newsroom when it appeared that though Donald Trump was likely to win, the race would still be too close to call for our 1:30 a.m. print deadline. We started to brainstorm a centerpiece showing the “too close to call narrative.”
Luckily, we were able to get an extension from our printer for 3 a.m. and this allowed us time to continue following the race until it was called for Trump.
“I’m glad that we prepared two front pages, but I wish we would have prepared one in case no one won that night,” Connor said after the election.
The centerpiece story, for the most part, was written beforehand, but various reporters made calls to administrators and student leaders to get their immediate reaction to the election results to include in the story.
The reactions of those we interviewed were mixed. Some were overjoyed while others felt overwhelmed with fear because of a Trump presidency. In the weeks following the election, we have continued to try and capture our community’s reactions.
Covering the community after election night
While election night had come to a close, its effect on campus was just beginning.
Alex Hanson, the managing editor of content who also specializes in political coverage, said that after covering the election you have to look closer for stories to cover because there aren’t campaign events.
“The election is over, but there is still plenty going on,” Hanson said. “You have to continue to be plugged in and know what’s going on.”
In addition to staying plugged in, Connor assigned stories to make sure we reported on the varying reactions students had about the election even if they were out protesting or shouting for joy.
As a staff, we covered everything from post-election discussions, Not My President protests, students experiences of being called racial slurs on election night, a bill in the state legislature to stop state funding for post-election counseling and most recently the canceling of an arranged Milo Yiannopoulos event because of fees Iowa State administrators asked the event hosts to pay because of raised security concerns. And those were just the major stories.
It was also particularly important for the Daily to seek out a variety of voices and tell stories of people’s personal stake in this election cycle. Those who were unhappy with the election results were the most vocal, but they were not reflective of the entire campus. To counter this and diversify our coverage, we created content about Trump’s policy plans and spoke to student Trump supporters.
The election in many ways has been more emotional than past elections, thus making it extremely important for journalists to capture the wide array of feelings in the community. The Daily specifically emphasized live coverage of protests and discussions on social media, while also creating content through analysis stories and visual elements to capture all types of news consumers.
Overall experiences covering the elections
Staffers at the Daily all had different experiences covering this election, especially as journalists in Iowa. Hanson said he felt both of the two major candidates ran their campaigns differently than campaigns were run in past elections, which made covering the election different for journalists.
Connor and assistant visuals editor, Emily Blobaum, mentioned how unique getting to cover the experience was.
“It was a really great experience documenting history,” Blobaum said. “I can now say I’ve taken photos of the President [Elect] of the United States. From an editor’s standpoint, it pushed my creativity and thinking outside the box.”
Though the Daily staffers were afforded the opportunities such as what Connor and Blobaum mentioned, the fact that they were college journalists sometimes played a role.
“As a college paper, people don’t take you as seriously and you don’t have as much access,” Hanson said. “They don’t think we’re professional enough…they think no one reads us, which isn’t true.”
But though there can be setbacks, Hanson said college journalists should not shy away from covering elections.
“Don’t be afraid to try to do the same report just because you’re in college,” Hanson said. “You’re in a unique spot to cover things for students, while also doing the big stories that other organizations will do.”