Primary Election Night: Lasagne and politics
It changed before my eyes. As the sweat ran down the left side of my face, the conversation on set gained pace. What could have been another cut-in, the first of more than a half-dozen planned, took a right turn, and then fittingly a left. Both Republican and Democrat points of view were being made, surrounded by questions and context.
The air conditioning quit in The Oklahoman’s video studio sometime after 6 pm Tuesday. I’ve never felt it hotter in the studio since we began shooting videos last February after moving to downtown Oklahoma City. Despite the unusually sweaty start at 7 pm as polls closed across the state, The Oklahoman’s studio election coverage assumed a confident tone of studio show versus random 5 or 10 minute updates.
We’ve been producing election updates since 2008. We’ve had Renzi Stone, former Sooner basketball player turned Saxum chairman and CEO, as a studio guest to provide political analysis, alongside Ed Kelley, former Editor of The Oklahoman, now dean for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.
Two reporters joined us on set throughout the three-plus hours of coverage: Rick Green, our capitol bureau chief who spends his days at the Oklahoma capitol, and Ben Felder, who joined The Oklahoman in the past year as a watchdog reporter. Rick and Ben brought a solid, smart look at the races, with an encyclopedic memory of candidates and storylines. Both were very well-spoken with concise questions and answers. They really carried me throughout the night, much props to them for their professionalism.
We had five storylines to follow Tuesday for our 2016 Primary Election coverage:
- Would incumbents weather storm of challengers?
- Would the turnout be up after a tough session?
- Would education candidates find grassroots success?
- How would the Presidential/national tone impact congressional races?
- Are we headed for a large number of runoffs?
To help us guide our way to those answers, we had Alex Weintz, former communications director for Gov. Mary Fallin. Alex worked with Gov. Fallin for nine years, including five while she served as Oklahoma governor. He now leads the communications division at Oklahoma City-based FKG Consulting, a consulting and lobbying firm.
Did I mention her dramatic and classy entrance to The Oklahoman’s newsroom with a huge tray of lasagne? “Always bring food!” she said as if she delivers pasta-inducing smiles around town everyday. It was so, so good. And paired nicely with the pizza brought in for the newsroom's hard charging reporters and copy editors working away towards deadlines.
So our coverage had changed. No longer was I hoping to guide a series of short conversations throughout the night. This had become a matter of keeping track of the evolving races, candidates, reporters and discussions, to let the conversations linger before cutting to the field.
We had two reporters at watch parties. Adam Kemp brought us live cut-ins from Congressman Steve Russell’s victory speech. My bad on directing us to the part where Russell thanked everyone in the room and many others not present. Our Juliana Keeping went above and beyond by attending two watch parties, bringing us live hits via Dejero on her phone from Tom Guild then Al McCaffrey, asking them questions and relaying questions from the studio. Big thanks to Adam and Juliana for their remote reporting, using a Dejero app on their iPhones to shoot, ask questions, perform Q&A with us in the studio and somehow maintain just enough battery life. Not an easy task of digital juggling. Both shot additional video of the candidates’ speeches or interviews for later on-demand viewing.
Alex brought his experience from inside the governor’s office to the table. At one point when I asked him about a Gov. Fallin story reported earlier that day by NBC in which he was quoted, he admitted it felt like he was putting the communications director hat back on. But he stayed on point with his perspective from a Republican point of view, and in this case the story related to Gov. Fallin being mentioned as a Vice President candidate alongside Donald Trump. But he also stepped back to provide present day commentary to the on-going presidential campaigning.
Cathy has spent time working with the numerous education candidates - the so-called “teacher caucus” - and spoke candidly about their efforts and goals. We even went down the path of gun control during one stretch at the 9 pm segment. Throughout the night Cathy relayed her experiences from running for state office and her conversations with the current candidates. This provided us with some solid context from the Democrats’ camp.
We had a couple of Facebook Live segments, taking a look behind the scenes of The Oklahoman’s video studio and some one-on-one interviews with Cathy and Alex about their careers. And maybe more than a few lasagne references.
Ben continually Tweeted throughout the night from the set. I provided some updates on Snapchat as a promotion to our coverage. We streamed live on NewsOK.com for more than three hours, wrapping up sometime after 10:30 pm. For those watching outside, we had a live feed to our street-side monitors and to the big screen overlooking the corner of Sheridan and Robinson. Phil O'Connor helped field produce from the newsroom, staying on top of what reporters were learning and relaying that information to the set.
And that air conditioning? It came back like a champ.
You can view The Oklahoman’s election coverage alongside the exhaustive stories and stats provided throughout NewsOK.com.