Live at NBC 5: Behind the scenes on busy election night

3 Nov

Ally Clark—a DePaul University journalism major and intern at—recounts her Election Night experience.

Part of the job description for Alexandra Clark, an intern this Fall assisting’s managing editor, reads: Must have computer and typing skills, good judgment, writing ability, creativity and ability to work in a fast-paced environment.

On Election Night, all of that and more were required working in the fastest-growing segment of the journalism industry. Here is Alexandra’s account of the four hours leading to the 10 o’clock news and beyond.

6:00 p.m. – Just arrived at the station and it’s much busier than normal. There are jokes flying left and right about how it must be serious business because all the interns have been called in to the station to help. The other joke is  the pronunciation NBCChicago’s Tweet Suite segment. The word is cracking people up and it’s the first time NBC has ever done anything like it.  It’s the busiest I’ve ever seen the station. Every TV in the station is on and competing with conversations going on throughout the newsroom. The only time the noise level dies down is when the evening anchors do their live shot from inside the studios. The energy is tense, with so many people in the station using the network, it’s running kind of slow. The editor next to me keeps yelling at his computer “COME ON! GO FASTER!” while slamming a fist on the desk.

6:30 p.m. – My first assignment is to write a story about a man who died today after a week in critical condition. He was bound, beaten and robbed last week. It’s not election related but it helps my editor, who just arrived, maintain current events on the Web site. We talk a little bit about the Rand’s win in Kentucky and all the buzz around the news rooms. It’s a reminder that the elections are not the only news in the city. The editor next to me is still struggling with updating the Web site.

7:00 p.m. – Story is complete and my news assignment is to scan AP and Getty images for pictures of the election. My editor explains that I’m to take down the number of the best photos so we can send them to NBC’s main headquarters for permission to use them. He says the pictures are expensive and therefore need approval from corporate before any NBC affiliate can purchase them. He adds that there is one guy in charge of giving approval. We laugh over the idea that it must suck to be that guy on a night like this. The noise level is up again and people are walking around more and more. A woman then comes around and reminds us all to eat.

7:30 p.m. – I’ve just discovered that the TV by my computer has a nonstop live feed of NBCChicago’s coverage of elections. The noise has died down again but it’s because a few people have run out to get food. “CMS,” the assembler used to generate content on the network is now starting to cause problems for my editor. He and the editor next to me are starting to vocalize their frustrations with the system running slow. It’s a concern because there is still a long night ahead of us. My other editor in the department is now helping out in the Tweet Suite, and his name has just been mentioned.

8:00 p.m. – One of the editors realizes that I have discovered the Live feed and puts me in charge of watching it and collecting quotes off of it. At this point the site is suffering a small setback, as the results coming to the NBCChicago website are not reflecting the actual results. Right now, the results coming in on MSNBC for Cook County show Quinn and Giannoulias in the lead.

8:30 p.m. – NBC is getting criticized for calling some of the results for the GOP and address it on TV. Jenn Schanz—another DePaul University intern—makes her TV debut on TweetSuite and reads tweets! The glitch on the web site is fixed and the results are now showing up. I’m still working on transcribing NBCChicago Live but it’s not going too well because the quotes are going so quickly and there are no bars to pull the names off. Also, the problem with Live is that I am unable to rewind it to double check the quotes. I’m betting by the end of the night I’ll be a pro. So far Dold is up with 49 percent of the votes in and Christine O’Donnell loses. Giannoulias and Quinn are still in the lead.

9:00 p.m. – Pulling quotes from Live TV is getting better but still far from where it needs to be. The gap between Giannoulias and Kirk along with Quinn and Brady are starting to close. Everyone here is looking towards “Suburban Cook” and down state to see how the results take the race. Victory speeches are starting to roll in as well. Toni Preckwinkle wins Cook County Assessor and gives her victory speech.

9:30 p.m. – Joe Berrios wins Cook County Assessor and we can’t release our win post because it’s locked in the system. I’m unable to pull the quotes from his victory speech because I’m working to unlock it his story from CMS as quickly as possible so my editor can get the announcement up onto the site. After it’s unlocked I do a quick check to see if any other posts are locked and find five more. Those are five problem a quick check prevented.

10:00 p.m. – Mark Kirk pulls ahead of Giannoulias on MSNBC but gets downgraded to a tie. The real problem is why these results are not showing up on our own Election 2010 page. It looks like the page is working on a delay though and no one is too panicked about it. Interestingly, Kirk leads in the regular election but Giannoulias leads in the special election. It’s funny because technically both could win; one would be a 60-day term while the other would be six years. Quick break to watch Cohen’s concession speech and everyone laughs when he says, “Well HELLO!” but it’s followed by disappointing groans when the sound goes out. I sigh in relief because it’s a quick break from poor attempts at transcribing.

10:30 p.m. – The election is narrowed down to two races: senate and governor. Kirk has pulled ahead but Brady is behind Quinn by 11,000 votes. Roland Burris has stopped by the studio to help break down the election on NBC 5. My editor is telling me that I need to go home at 11:30 p.m. because he wants to make sure I’m here in the morning. At this point I realize that the NBC chime followed by a muffled voice on a loudspeaker is calling the winners for every race across the country.

11:00 p.m. – I’ve asked my editor for permission to stay but he has yet to agree. Meanwhile the race is getting closer and closer. My editor tells me to check the site for glitches and to keep looking for pictures.  He also shows me a trick for shorthand. There is another Jenn Schanz sighting on TV in the Tweet Suite. NBC is doing so well with the segment that in less than minutes of a status update asking questions about the election they get nearly 40 comments on Facebook. They decide to start asking the questions live before posting them on Facebook and twitter to see if they can get live immediate responses.

11:15 p.m. – An announcement is made over that NBC projects Mark Kirk is the winner. Now the wait begins for the concession and victory speeches. Meanwhile NBCChicago’s Facebook page gets close to 5,000 fans! Tweet Suite segment has been a huge success for the network. Still waiting for NBC to call the governor’s race, but it doesn’t look likely to come anytime soon. Quinn is ahead by LESS than 6,000 votes and there are an estimated 30,000 absentee ballots outstanding. Hopefully my pleas to my editor are heard and he lets me stay.

11:30 p.m. – Rumor has it that Brady is going to be making a speech even though the race is tied 46-46. Giannoulias makes his concession speech and transcribing is still not going well; shorthand is somehow making it harder. Now waiting for Mark Kirk to give his victory speech.

12:00 a.m. – Boss reminds me to go home. Still waiting to see Kirk’s victory speech and it looks like Brady will be speaking at the same time. Decide to stick with Kirk’s victory speech to take another failed attempt at transcribing and shorthand is officially not working for me. Suddenly my other editor asks me to flip over to Brady and transcribe what he says immediately. Success! I’m able to transcribe a minute and half of what he says! Brady will not concede and says that he will wait until the results from the absentee ballots. We all then tune back into Mark Kirk’s victory speech to hear him extend an invite to Giannoulias for a beer at Billy Goat Tavern. It’s going to be the top story tomorrow, especially when Giannoulias says he will accept.

12:30 a.m. – There is still no word on who will be the next Governor of Illinois and everything else has been settled. I pack up my stuff, thank my editors for letting me help out and head home for the night.

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