Last night, Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media (SCM) was buzzing as students, professors, professional staff and local journalists joined together to provide live coverage of the New Jersey gubernatorial election in their new building.
From 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. the SCM transformed into a news center that could be described as nothing short of professional. Greeters welcomed guests entering the building, while the election results were projected on a large screen right by the entrance of the building. Right across from the screen was a news lab packed with students and staff working camera equipment and conducting interviews.
“I thought it would be pretty cool to be in the action,” said student production assistant Chase Voorhees. “Usually we would learn to be behind the camera for basic projects in class, but this is real life.”
Corey Smith, another student production assistant, was in charge of one of the eleven cameras used for coverage. He found the live show to be more in-depth than last year’s national election coverage.
“I thought it was really cool because it was a really big event that took a lot of time and planning to get everything just right,” Smith said. “We did a similar one last year for the presidential election, but this one incorporated a lot more.”
Deeper within the SCM there was even more behind the scenes action, such as a makeup room, an interview studio and an industrious control room packed with students bringing all the segments together.
“It was hectic, and it was loud, and a lot was happening,” said Stanley Wiercinski, a student assistant in the control room who was in charge of cutting between various cameras and graphics. “It was really fun, and it was a great experience.”
Associate Director of Broadcast and Media Operations Patty Piroh believed the night was a success and emphasized how multimedia played a big part in providing well-rounded coverage.
“For a collaboration of this magnitude to have WMSC, Wired Jersey, the crew from Carpe Diem, the Montclarion, the Center for Cooperative Media [and] to have reporters via Skype stationed all over the place to bring it all together, it’s really an ambitious endeavor and one that we were successful with,” Piroh said. “It’s just a really great experience for me as director to watch our students rise to the occasion and really succeed, and I’m really proud of them.”
The coverage itself consisted of four time blocks, each a half-hour long. These blocks were organized by four senior producers Lucia Ruby-Godoy, Christina Urban, Lataya Rothmiller and Patrick Cicchetti. The production overall, was run by executive producers Alexandra Clark, Lataya Rothmiller and Georgia Salvaryn.
Student produced packages ranged from the possibility of marijuana legalization, insights on the role of memes in politics and the potential of free community college tuition. Hosting the event in the news lab were student news anchors Christian Curatola and Gina Bakri as well as student news reporter Kate Braunstein.
The coverage was broadcast in a livestream over various web platforms such as the Montclarion Facebook page, the campus radio station WMSC 90.3 and the official website for the Center for Cooperative Media.
“Several New Jersey news comments members who we work with at the center have been here and have been interviewed by students,” said Stefani Murray, the director for the Center of Cooperative Media. “I’ve talked to four or five of them and they’ve all said it was a great experience. They’ve all said it was very professional. Their interviews were well done and they were really impressed.”
Coverage did not just end with on-campus participation. There were plenty of reporters off campus reporting from Newark, Ocean County and the headquarters of the two main candidates for governor, Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno.
Throughout the coverage, the results of the counted ballots were shown on a state-of-the-art map created by NJ Spotlight. The map project had been done for the past three years, but this was the first time the map project had been incorporated into the broadcast of the election. At one point, the NJ Spotlight Map had even provided more accurate results than The New York Times.
“Usually we have sort of two parallel operations going on: the map and then they do their broadcast, and we get looped in a little bit,” said Associate Director of the Center for Cooperative Media and Coordinator of the NJ Spotlight Map Joe Amditis. “This time we’ve had meetings every Tuesday for the last several weeks, trying to get this thing ready to go doing rehearsals, doing runthroughs, doing the meetings and setting up.”
There were minor difficulties. Interviews were rescheduled to different time blocks and coverage was even more difficult to maintain due to CNN announcing Phil Murphy as the projected winner of the election halfway through the livestream. However the news team worked quickly around these conflicts to keep the production running smoothly.
“I don’t think it went anywhere near as planned, but that said it still went very well,” said senior producer Patrick Cicchetti. “Between our efforts and especially the executive producers being on-point with everything, we made it happen. Looks like that’s how it was supposed to happen and that’s all you can ask for.”