The diverse, and tasty, elements of election coverage

Random thoughts about news coverage as another election season comes to an end:

• In 1999, school board and municipal elections were combined, primarily to save the cost of having two separate votes — municipal elections in the spring and then schools in the fall. It’s a reasonable goal, but I worry. Individual school and municipal issues seem to get diluted in the campaigns voters must be expected to follow.

From our point of view covering these elections, it’s certainly a bit of a relief to know we’ll have a fall free of any campaigning and the huge amount of interviewing and planning that an election entails.

But, it also means that whereas previously we could marshal all of our resources in the spring to help residents get to know their municipal candidates and then use those same resources in the fall for school board races, we now have to use all the resources at once for both school and municipal coverage. That inevitably reduces how much we can tell you about individual candidates and their campaigns. I hope the savings is worth it.

• Early voting is a good thing. It will be interesting to see at some point whether it has really achieved the goal of increasing voter turnout. With turnout percentages Tuesday in the low teens for suburban counties, early voting would still seem to have far to go to reach its potential.

And those voters who want to take full advantage of it better be sure of whom they support. A lot of coverage can and must occur in the two weeks before Election Day that could affect a voter’s decisions.

• We covered, by the way, somewhere over 150 races and more than 1,000 candidates.

• Journalists complain about few things as much as they moan about the challenges of Election Night — struggling to stay on top of election results from different counties, each of which handles them differently and with different levels of reliability; reporting on races periodically through the night for our web audience; tracking down winning and losing candidates for responses as results become known; getting brushed off but going back for more; oohing and ahhing at the surprises that inevitably occur, and tearing up all the planning they disrupt; filing stories, pictures and charts for print by late evening that will be as complete, accurate and authoritative as possible when readers pick up their newspapers the next morning; then, putting all the stories and pictures in place, editing them, making them fit and writing headlines and captions.

It is a masterpiece of exhaustive planning, gut-wrenching stress and some occasional yelling. And there’s a point when you’re in the midst of it when you stop and say to yourself, “Wow. This is really cool.”

• Plus there’s pizza. It’s amazing what you can get people to do for a couple slices of greasy pizza.

• Then, after five or six hours of sleep (if you’re lucky), you come back to the office to huddle with fellow editors, reporters and photographers and reflect on what it all means, what stories readers will want to learn more about and how you’ll pull it together for the next day and beyond.

• Somewhere in there, those low turnout numbers keep surfacing in your mind and you try not to think about how much more readership you might have gotten with stories about kittens or crimes or sex scandals.

• But you also think about all the metrics we have showing people by the thousands looking up stories online and checking the newspaper’s candidate endorsements. You realize that if we didn’t go through all this, what options would people have to learn about the men and women who would govern the education of our schoolchildren, manage the quality of life in our communities and spend our tax money doing it?

And again you stop and say to yourself, “Wow, this is cool.”

And the pizza was nice, too.

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