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Covering the Elections: SOC Edition

By Paola Chavez

Graduate journalism students at American University spread out around the region and filed election reports for WAMU, The Washington Post and WTOP.

Graduate journalism students at American University spread out around the region and filed election reports for WAMU, The Washington Post and WTOP.

As I finish my first semester of American University's journalism MA program, I'd rate covering the midterm elections as one of the best experiences yet. It gave me a chance to test out some of the skills I'd acquired in the classroom in real time, on deadline, for real news outlets. And I learned a thing or two along the way.    

On Tuesday, November 4, the polls opened at 6 a.m. Soon thereafter, I tightened up my coffee thermos and I was off to cover the 10th District race (Barbara Comstock v. John Foust) in my hometown of Northern Virginia.    

I started my day at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Vienna, Virginia where the flow of voters was slow but steady. My classmates were doing similar work at polls throughout the region.

My job was not only to talk to voters and find out why they were voting in the midterm elections, but also to observe voting trends, whether it be political party affiliations or the range of age groups participating. What I thought would be a challenge ended up being a lot easier than anticipated, because voters were willing to share.   

For my classmate and aspiring sports reporter, Brieon Paige, the experience made her realize just how much she has grown as a reporter, gaining the skills necessary to tell a compelling and accurate story. 

"I've learned the importance of using different platforms of social media efficiently," said Paige. "Campaign coverage gives people the chance to voice their opinions, sharing their hopes for future leaders, and as a reporter we serve as the middle-man."    

One of the greatest opportunities that day was the chance to work for major news outlets- The Washington Post, WTOP and WAMU- throughout the day.   

Co-web design editor for our class website, Beltway Ballots, Merissa Thomas covered the Maryland gubernatorial election, and was published by WAMU.

"I familiarized myself with the major issues brought up during the MD gubernatorial campaigns and arrived at the polls as early as I could. During the interviews I conducted with voters I made sure to ask what in particular they supported this election coverage," said Thomas. "I soon realized how bored Marylanders were by the candidates but how passionate they felt towards the controversial tax hikes in the state. I knew with that peg, my story for WAMU would write itself."   

Despite covering different areas in DC, Maryland and Virginia, as a class we shared similar experiences, including insight into how the MA program is preparing us.   

After a very long and busy day, I ended the night in Barbara Comstock's hometown of McLean, Virginia. There, I had an opportunity to speak to the Republican candidate herself, as well as a former candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, Kathleen Murphy.   

After a 12-hour workday, four…maybe five cups of coffee later, we met our deadlines and survived. Read Paola Chavez's Election Survival Guide