By Alexandra Licata
Dozens of students sat in the NewsHub at the Hofstra University Lawrence Herbert School of Communication. The sound of chatter and typing filled the air. Every screen had election coverage on it of some sort. Some were editing video packages created by classmates earlier in the week, others were tracking the polls for broadcast, and still others were developing story angles for an issue of The Hofstra Chronicle that would take all night to complete. As the clock ticked down, it became 7:15 p.m., then 7:59 p.m., and it was time for the Lawrence Herbert School to put on its largest broadcast yet.
That was the scene of Hofstra Votes Live, the first-ever simulcast between “Hofstra Today” and 88.7 FM WRHU. Never before had students collaborated in such a way, and suddenly they were working together to cover the 2018 Midterm Election. More than 100 people, mostly students and faculty, filled the Lawrence Herbert School on the night of Nov. 6.
“For the students here at the school, we are in a multimedia world. [They] are all graduating into a cross-platform world,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, the dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication.
“The idea of bringing people who are experts in television and radio and written journalism and digital journalism all together to create a single package, a single simulcast that would go everywhere, really appealed to me because I think all the students and all of the faculty, frankly, are getting exposed to each other and figuring out ways of working together.”
Preparation began a month earlier. Many meetings with the leaders of each organization were held with a variety of staff and Lukasiewicz. From the Radio, Television and Film Department, Assistant Professor Nicole Franklin and Dr. Peter Gershon assisted in all aspects of the visual storytelling. Equipment Room Manager Patricia Szenher created the chyrons, or graphics, that were superimposed onto the television broadcast, and any other additional graphics that were needed.
WRHU General Manager Bruce Avery and Professional-in-Residence Pete Silverman worked with students to develop their on-air stories, in addition to ensuring the broadcast ran smoothly.
Dr. Cliff Jernigan, chairman of the Journalism, Mass Media and Public Relations Department, and Associate Professor Mario Gonzalez joined the team to help student reporters focus on the key issues in the election and create packages to air during “Hofstra Today.”
“I’ve never done political coverage in this way before. Neither has [my Co-Producer] Ellen [Boyle],” said Julia Wachtel, co-producer of “Hofstra Today.” “This was a very new and scary experience. I did a lot of the content writing, met for writers meetings and helped create a lot of the scripted content.”
Once election night arrived, it was time for everyone’s hard work and preparation to be put into action, and yet, there were still things that couldn’t be prepared for. For states with close races, like Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and Georgia, students needed to be ready for any outcome and able to talk about the importance of whichever way the vote would sway.
WRHU News Director Kimberly Donahue said, “We’ve been watching a lot of other election coverages to see how things on TV go. We’ve just been looking at every possible outcome.”
When the clocks hit 6:30 p.m., it was time for a run through of the first hour of the show. This was the time to fix microphones, notice any last-minute technical issues, ensure both control rooms were running properly and help the on-air talent become comfortable before showtime.
Throughout the night, viewers were able to listen and watch interviews, anchors, packages and more in the broadcast, but what they didn’t see was the teamwork happening behind the scenes. Members of The Hofstra Chronicle kept an eye on the national races, along with a social media team monitoring for the reactions to results, while members of WRHU watched the local and regional results.
For four hours, coverage switched between WRHU, five on-site reporters, “Hofstra Today” and the NewsHub. For some, once the four hours were completed, their night was done, but for others, the largest portion of their work was still to come. The Hofstra Chronicle staff spent all night in the NewsHub finishing the night’s paper, and after a long night’s work, they put the paper to bed at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
“I was absolutely exhausted, but it was probably one of my favorite experiences that I’ve ever had here at Hofstra,” said Gabriella Varano, a sophomore journalism major. “Creating something together so quickly… it was great to see the turnaround and the product that we all made together.”
From the month of preparation to the night of the action, teamwork between organizations was what allowed for a historic broadcast from the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, and with that came an experience that prepared all those involved for their careers to come.