November 8, 2012

The rush on Election Day


---- — We thought Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would mess us up Tuesday night, but it was actually Bill Owens who did it.

Election days are like the Super Bowl for journalists. They are among the biggest, most important events of the year, and you have to have your team ready and your game planned.

We deal with three of them in a typical year: village elections in March, school votes in May and the general election in November.

We have election night down to a science. That’s because we have so many veteran reporters and editors who have worked the night for years.

This year, we had our Page 1 lineup planned out way ahead of time: the presidential election (to be covered by The Associated Press), the Congressional District seat (Joe LoTemplio), 114th Assembly District (Dan Heath and Ashleigh Livingston), 115th Assembly District (Lohr McKinstry) and Malone dissolution (Denise Raymo). Kelli Catana was on photo duty.

We also had to report on a smattering of town and village races around our coverage area of Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

The stories all have to be written between the time results start coming in, usually 9:30 at the earliest, and when we go to press. We usually like our presses to start running at 12:30 a.m. on a weekday, but that gets pushed back for election night. Still, the later we get the papers out of the building, the more chance we get complaints about late delivery, cause problems for our drivers or miss early newsstand sales.

So, in other words, everything has to be done fast and accurately in a span of a few hours.

Add to that the modern demands of social media — people are watching for stories on our website and spurts of news on Twitter.

The reporters get the background written for the articles ahead of time, explaining a little about the candidates and the races so all they need to do late at night is top them off with the results and quotes from the winners and losers.

Sounds easier than it is — there are complications every year.

We thought the presidential race would be the big one this year. The polls showed Obama and Romney neck and neck, and we envisioned another Bush-Gore vote, when we had to go to press without knowing who would be the next president. We thought it could take days for a confirmed winner.

But once the Ohio results came in, NBC declared Obama the winner, and we could start setting up the lead story for Page 1. Most of the reporters were back and writing their local stories by then.

But we had two sticky situations: Conservative Assembly candidate Karen Bisso wasn’t conceding, and incumbent Congressman Bill Owens was nowhere in sight.

Bisso is fairly new to politics and maybe just didn’t know that you don’t need to have all the votes in to be sure you have lost. Tim Carpenter, the other challenger to incumbent Republican Janet Duprey, had long before conceded, but Bisso was still clinging to the idea that some “fringe communities” could still make her the winner.

Since our reporter had to head back without Bisso having admitted she lost, she had to ask the candidate what her thoughts would be IF that’s how it turned out.

Meanwhile, Owens still hadn’t turned up at Democratic headquarters. He did this in the last election, too. Most candidates hang out with their party members during the final hours of election night to see the results come in. Owens didn’t. He might not care that he is holding up journalists who need his picture and quotes, but it seems he would want to put in more time with his supporters.

Anyway, he finally showed up at 12:09 a.m., meaning LoTemplio — fortunately, one of our fastest writers — had to really hustle. The Saratogian actually went to press with a “too close to call” type headline for that race before doing a replate that changed the headline and first paragraph or two so the later editions confirmed that Owens had won.

The presses ran later than we would have liked, and a few typographical errors slipped by, but again this year, we went home early Wednesday feeling like we had won our Super Bowl. 

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