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AU Students Fan Out Across NH, SC to Cover Primaries

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Students at the New Hampshire primaries 2020

For five days in February, the only thing as packed as New Hampshire’s high school gymnasiums was Karissa Waddick’s itinerary.  

As the results of the Granite State’s Democratic primary trickled in on February 11—with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) eking out a win over former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg—Waddick, SOC-SPA/BA ’20, raced from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) speech in Manchester to Concord, where she arrived just in time to catch Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN). 

SOC student Robbie Heilberg (far left) asks Sen. Amy Klobuchar Tuesday about her chances in New Hampshire’s primary, Tuesday in Manchester, New Hampshire.
SOC student Robbie Heilberg (far left) asks Sen. Amy Klobuchar Tuesday about her chances in New Hampshire’s primary, Tuesday in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Powered by political curiosity and Dunkin Donuts coffee, Waddick covered stump speeches and debate watch parties and interviewed documentarian Michael Moore, filling her camera and recorder with the sights and sounds of 2020’s first primary. “I was surprised at how willing voters were to speak with us and how open they were about who they supported and why,” says the Massachusetts native. “They definitely were familiar with the process.” 

The events capped off a nonstop week of reporting for Waddick and 23 fellow AU students enrolled in Presidential Primaries, a course offered every four years by the School of Communication and the School of Public Affairs. Now in its fourth cycle, the class featured a new twist this year: South Carolina.

“We went back and forth between adding Iowa and South Carolina,” says SOC professor Lynne Perri, who teaches the course along with Betsy Fischer Martin and Molly O’Rourke. “But we all agreed that the diversity and expanse of South Carolina made it [a good fit]“ for the 19 students who will cover the Palmetto State’s February 29 primary. 

SOC student Karissa Waddick corners filmmaker Michael Moore to ask questions following a Sanders watch party in New Hampshire on Friday.
SOC student Karissa Waddick corners filmmaker Michael Moore to ask questions following a Sanders watch party in New Hampshire on Friday.

“No matter where they go, we want students to leave with a true understanding of how elections work,” Perri says. “We also want them to leave with a better understanding of politics and small-town America, and a better understanding, for better or for worse, of why the media covers the horse race and the issues that bubble up.”

In diners, outside polling places in exit poll interviews for the Boston Globe’s Instagram account, and outside a Trump rally in Manchester on the eve of the primary, AU students dug into those issues first-hand with New Hampshirites. For Waddick, the experience solidified her decision to go into journalism.

“I want to be on the ground as a multimedia political reporter,” she says. “I want to follow a path toward becoming a political embed so I can relive this in a few years.”