Covering Trump: The Daily Orange
Editor’s note: This article was written by Justin Mattingly, the editor in chief of The Daily Orange, the independent student newspaper at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. This is the second in a series showcasing student publications and how they’ve covered one of the most unique elections in United States history.
A week before Election Day, our presentation director, Clare Ramirez, called us into the visuals room in The Daily Orange house.
“Well, here they are,” said Ramirez, scrolling through about a dozen options for post-election front pages.
We went through the options, critiquing each one before selecting a layout everyone was happy with. We knew we had just chosen the most iconic front page of our time at the paper. Over the next week and beyond, The D.O. has covered what is considered one of the wildest elections in U.S. history.
Like many college newspapers, we followed the circus of an election from the time Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) became the first person to announce his candidacy. We paid special attention, however, to Vice President Joe Biden’s decision to run or not run in the wake of Beau Biden’s death. We had internal discussions about how we’d cover him and had some plans in place.
All the Biden planning was negated in October 2015 when he announced in the Rose Garden of the White House that he wouldn’t be seeking the Oval Office.
Over the next few months, we covered the candidates as they came to Syracuse, an anomaly for most elections. Our election coverage and planning really revved up over the summer and into the fall. We understood that readers are not coming to The Daily Orange for their major political news. Because of that, we took the approach of informing the electorate in clear ways to help them at both the national and local levels.
Headed by news editor and junior Sara Swann, much of the planning was done by our News staff, which brainstormed ideas and thought of different ways to cover the leadup to the election.
“We knew well beforehand it would be crazy, but I think on Nov. 8 we had a solid plan of attack,” Swann said. “We had pre-writes for all of the announcements so those could be updated and posted as soon as possible. We had had the front page design laid out for weeks. And everyone was assigned specific tasks.”
One of our most successful ideas was a series called “Candidates on the Issues,” a graphical breakdown of the presidential, Senate and Congressional candidates on key areas of policy. The series ran every Tuesday and Thursday and was praised in the community for giving clear-cut stances all in one place.
Heading into election week, all election-relevant staff members had a clear understanding of their role in our coverage and what was expected of them. It was go time.
The night itself
With our plans in place, things went smoothly throughout the day. Reporters and photographers were across campus and around the city. At “headquarters,” staffers came in earlier than our normal 4 p.m. production start time. It wasn’t a normal night.
Over the next 12 hours, we focused our coverage online with our web team, coordinating graphics and a live blog while the news staff and designers collaborated on the print product.
Like many across the country, we realized that Trump was going to be the likely winner. Thankfully, we had not only the front pages for both candidates, but stories, columns and an editorial board calling on the community to respect the results of the election.
The D.O. is a very collaborative environment and staff members realize that no matter their position on the masthead, at the end of the day they work for the paper rather than a specific section. And that night each staff member embraced our mission of covering the election to the fullest extent possible.
So at 2 a.m. — an hour and a half past our normal deadline, which had been extended — it was great to see an assistant sports editor doing a second read on a news coverage story and a sports copy editor going over the main A1 story on Trump’s win. Our sports editor sprinted to the Quad after rumors of a possible student protest after covering an SU men’s basketball game just a few hours before.
“Everyone just kind of bought in,” said Michael Burke, an assistant news editor and junior who wrote the main story.
We saw different front pages from across the country, some with the final result and others without. In Syracuse, the local metro newspaper, The Post-Standard, ran with a “Too Close To Call” headline. For us, we waited until the Associated Press officially called it. The paper was sent a few minutes after 3:30 a.m. with the “Trump Wins” headline.
“When we sent the paper, it was just an incredible feeling. The fact that we had that,” Burke said.
The results of Nov. 8 set off a major response on campus. Protests and candlelight vigils were held in the days and weeks following the election. Professors turned classes into an open forum for discussion. Uncertainty over undocumented students prompted a thousand-person walkout.
The D.O. is committed to seeing the story through. Our news staff sat down to budget post-election stories about how a Trump presidency will affect university policy and the SU community. We determined soon after the Nov. 9 paper that January’s inauguration is going to be historical, of course, but extremely controversial on campus.
We’ll be sending a team of reporters and photographers to Washington and New York City to cover the inauguration and will have a special edition paper the day after. Our feature section has stories centered on the election budgeted for the first week of papers back from our winter break. No matter the section, election coverage carries on.
The newsroom started to thin out around 4 a.m. on Election Night. A group of about five of us stuck around. We dropped people off at their apartments and dorms, but found our way back to the paper.
Into the morning, the paper arrived at about 7:15 a.m. On campus that day, students, faculty and Syracuse residents picked up their copies of the historic paper.
Come Jan. 21, The D.O. will have another historic paper on newsstands. The D.O. isn’t shying away from this election.