Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Pity the Poor Reporters

This time four years ago, I was in a makeshift newsroom frantically trying to figure out how to write a front-page story about the Presidential election when there was not a clear winner yet and the layout editor was standing behind me yelling “I need the copy NOW.”

It was my first year as a journalism student, we were producing a special University/ Journalism department newspaper about the elections, and together with one of my classmates, A., I’d been given the honor of writing the lead story, whose headline we THOUGHT would be either “Bush Wins” or “Gore Wins,” or, more likely, something more snazzy-sounding than that but with the same idea. Writing headlines was never my strong point; that’s what copy editors are for!

A. and I had spent the days before preparing “B-copy,” that is, the text that would appear further down in the article, and which we could write ahead of time. My job was to research B-copy about the Bush campaign, and A. researched the Gore campaign, and on election night, while some of our classmates hit the streets to interview voters and party-sponsored “victory” bashes, and other classmates sat over the computers nearby churning out copy about the Senate races and referendums, A. and I attempted to combine our research into one cohesive article while simultaneously taking quotes from the reporters on the street and keeping one eye on CNN.

We were under a lot of pressure, all of us, since our work that night would become, for most of us, the first "clip" to show potential employers. A. and I knew that neither of us would have a chance to write front-page news again for a long time. The clock was ticking. There wasn’t a clear presidential winner. If we have to submit the copy before a winner emerges, how in the world are we supposed to write the lead?

The TV was blaring, the phones were ringing, the blue states and the red states were stacking up evenly, the faculty advisor was reading our copy over my shoulder and complaining about it, the layout editor had to get the computer files with our paper to the printer by midnight . . . and there was no winner. Florida went to Gore, then to Bush . . . I felt my hair start to stick to the back of my neck.

In the end, the headline read “Fuzzy finish in a close race” and started “Americans went to bed last night without knowing . . . . “ Neither A. nor I recognized our article as ours- the total was so different from the sum of the parts that neither of us were happy having our names at the top of the story. But it was over.

And it had been really, REALLY exciting.

I don’t think I’ll stay up tonight to see what happens, mostly because I know that whatever happens, the other side will probably say “that is not what happened,” and it will be contested, blah blah blah. Fuzzy, and no finish. Let’s hope I’m wrong about this.

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