The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Live from Rockbridge County: How students deliver local coverage on Election Night

Students join forces across disciplines to deliver on-off year coverage
Lead producer Jack Hunter, ’24, beams in front of a white board during the Rockbridge Report’s Election Night coverage. (Courtesy of Rockbridge Report Instagram)

For most, last Tuesday was spent study-ing, relaxing or catching up with friends. For the few dozen students huddled around monitors in Reid Hall and racing across town to interview candidates, it was another chaotic Election Night.

Forty-one students from several classes and work-study groups collaborated to produce Election Night coverage for The Rockbridge Report. The newscast is the only live, real-time cable news show serving Rockbridge County.

Journalism professor and faculty advi-sor Kevin Finch, who has helmed election night for 11 years, said election night allows students to experience a fast-paced journalistic environment firsthand.

“They’re getting a taste of what it’s really like in a professional newsroom,” Finch said. “They’ll see how hectic it is, how last-minute changes are the rule and not the exception. Even if that’s not some- thing they choose to do as a career, they get an appreciation for why the reporters and producers are sweating the details.”

To deal with the ensuing mania of last-minute changes, different classes were broken into teams where each mem-ber had a specific job. A broadcast announcing class interviewed candidates, while student producers and reporters wrote scripts and edited video. Work-study groups ran lights and audio, and politics students tallied real-time results.

Jack Hunter, ’24, who served as head producer, said he was excited for the challenges that come with covering an off-off year election. Virginia is a rare state that holds statewide elections during odd-numbered years.

“There’s almost more responsibility on us this year because a lot of the country is looking at Virginia,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be unpredictable. Usually our shows are very detailed and laid out in advance, but I’m excited for the opportunity to make good, live television.”

This year, Virginia was one of a handful of states having elections. In addition to state-level offices, seats in the governments of Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge County were also up for grabs.

Politics student Connor Matiel, ’24, who coordinated data collection, said that the opportunity gave him more satisfaction than he was expecting.

“I felt the night went well. Everyone who worked with me was incredibly useful at getting information really quickly so I could meet all the deadlines,” Matiel said. “We would also call races and see The New York Times agree with us, so that felt good.”

In addition to journalistic efforts, the program also featured student political analysts from Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention.

Foster Harris,’24, and Henry Haden, ’25, focused on the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Haden said political analysis on a local level helps voters understand what’s really impacting them.

“Providing local commentary is really important,” Haden said. “A lot of people get tied up in the presidential races, but local candidates aren’t running on issues like abortion — they’re running to fix the water treatment plant, or other things that impact voters that they wouldn’t otherwise think about.”

Through their combined contributions, Washington and Lee students delivered two complete newscasts throughout the night, with a final broadcast concluding around 10 p.m. Later in the evening, President William Dudley stopped by to greet students and observe the production.

Journalism professor Alecia Swasy said she enjoys seeing students gain practical experience every year. “The Election Night is the Super Bowl for journalists,” Swasy said. “Even in off-year elections, it’s important because democracy bubbles up on the local level. Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about tiny races, and that’s a challenge with covering them, but it’s such great real-world experience for the students.”

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