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COM to Cover Election Night Live

Broadcasts will follow local, regional, congressional contests

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After months of seemingly endless political ads on television, candidate debates, and expert commentary spanning the political spectrum, Election Day has finally arrived.

Tonight, more than 75 College of Communication students will team up to provide in-depth, multiplatform coverage of Massachusetts political races and ballot results, and prominent congressional contests across the country. The special report, The Midterms 2014, is a collaboration among BUTV10, the BU News Service, and WTBU.

This year’s midterm election reporting follows a similar collaborative effort by COM students on election night two years ago, Decision 2012, which covered congressional and Senate races, as well as the presidential election. That special won a New England Associated Press Student Award for Best Election Coverage.

This year’s COM election coverage will focus mainly on several closely watched Massachusetts contests, most prominently the gubernatorial race. The two candidates running to replace two-time Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley (LAW’79), are currently in a dead heat. Bay State voters will also be weighing in on four controversial ballot questions: whether businesses with more than 11 employees must provide mandatory paid sick time, whether to prohibit casinos, whether to eliminate gas tax indexing, and whether to expand the current beverage container deposit law. COM students will cover regional contests as well, such as the New Hampshire Senate race between Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, which could signal a shift in the control of the Senate, now by a small margin more than half Democratic.

Midterms 2014 executive producer Ashley Davis (COM’15) says that in addition to up-to-the-minute polling results for local, regional, and national races, the television coverage will feature commentary from experts like Thomas Fiedler (COM’71), dean of COM and a Pulitzer Prize–winning former political reporter, John Carroll, a COM assistant professor and a frequent political commentator, and Jacob Groshek, a COM assistant professor and a social communication researcher. The experts will provide analysis on the key ballot issues and discuss how the results could affect students and local residents. The broadcast will also include on-location reporting from students at various candidates’ headquarters as well as from students participating in BU’s Washington, D.C., Multimedia and Journalism Program.

Davis says the goal is to “keep the broadcast as dynamic and engaging as possible,” adding that “viewers won’t be watching two anchors feed information for three hours straight. They’re going to be taken on an exciting ride as we follow the tide of news results.”

The BU News Service will supplement BUTV10’s broadcast with multimedia packages, photos, and tweets on its website, making it easy for viewers to follow election results from their computers or smartphones. WTBU will have live radio updates throughout the evening as well.

The students involved in The Midterms 2014 are all volunteers, according to Davis. “The depth of coverage that will be available on election night is a direct correlation to the depth of people jumping in to make this successful: there are a lot of hands involved,” she says. “And it’s all extracurricular. While some professors have used part of our content needs as assignments, for the most part students are taking this opportunity to supplement their work outside of the classroom.”

Susan Walker (GRS’09), a COM associate professor of journalism, who is the national content manager for tonight’s special, says that while the students aren’t getting paid or receiving course credit for their work on the project, the chance to be part of a live broadcast of this magnitude is priceless.

Emmy-winning former Boston television news anchor R. D. Sahl, a COM associate professor of the professional practice of journalism, is working with the students on tonight’s broadcast. Sahl says the broadcast will be the “real deal” for viewers, while giving the student journalists invaluable hands-on experience. “I can’t imagine there are many journalism programs as aggressive as ours will be on election night,” he says. “Participants get the experience—the adrenaline and stomach acid that go with covering a breaking story live—and excellent job training: planning, producing, reporting, airing, and problem solving on the fly. The rewards and punishments are obvious very quickly. Some people jump out of airplanes. Some do live TV.”

For Davis, participating in such an ambitious project combines her passion for journalism with her commitment to engaging audiences with compelling storytelling. “Someone once asked me why I wanted to go into journalism, and my answer was that I like to be the first person to tell someone a story,” she says. “I believe that’s a quality that most in the COM journalism department would say they share. There is an immense opportunity with the elections to offer a student perspective on an event that is shaping our future. This production is a chance for students to come together and talk about the midterm elections in a relevant and current way—and be the first ones to share this story with our audience.”

COM’s election coverage, The Midterms 2014, begins tonight at 9 p.m. The live three-hour broadcast will air on BUTV10 and also be available via live simulcast on the BUTV10 website and on the BU News Service website. The BU News Service will provide supplementary coverage on its website and will tweet election results live. Live election updates will be available on WTBU’s radio broadcast.

Samantha Pickette can be reached at pickette@bu.edu.

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