Saturday, November 28, 2020
Nov. 28, 2020

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From the Newsroom: Newsroom primed for election night

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

Last week I wrote about how The Associated Press will be covering Tuesday’s election. They’ll have someone detailed to watch every county in Washington and feed the vote totals into their data center, which in turn feeds their Seattle bureau, which feeds members like us.

While they are doing that, our journalists will focus on our local coverage.

In the 30-plus years I’ve been covering general elections, this one will be unique in that most of us will continue to work remotely. In the past, the newsroom has been bustling on election night, with TVs chattering, phones ringing, reporters and editors talking, and leftover pizza getting colder by the minute. But I’ll be surprised if there are more than a few of us around this year.

Here’s our plan. First, we needed to secure a later deadline. Most Tuesday nights, we put the paper to bed about the time the local election results would be known, so we’ll extend the press start until midnight. That will give us ample time to write about the local election returns, and gives us breathing room in case the presidential race is too close to call right away. A lot of observers think that will be the case, so we might not even have a winner by midnight. But we can’t go later, or you wouldn’t get your paper on time Wednesday morning.

With that uncertainty in mind, News Editor Merridee Hanson told me she’ll do a front page layout that can be easily switched to portray either President Donald Trump or Joe Biden as the winner, or show photos of each man with a headline and story indicating that the race was too close to call at press time.

We’ll also run the Congress balance-of-power story on the front page, along with the Jaime Herrera Beutler-Carolyn Long congressional rematch and the closest state race (I am guessing it will be Referendum 90, regarding sex-ed curriculum).

Our Clark County cover will feature stories about legislative races in the 17th, 18th and 49th districts, plus a story wrapping up two county council races.

The art for this page is more problematic than usual. Most election years, we would send photographers to election-night parties or to the 8 p.m. gathering of candidates at the Clark County Public Service Center. Due to COVID-19 restrictions those won’t be happening, or at least shouldn’t be, so Metro Editor Mark Bowder said we’ll try for photos of people dropping off ballots on Election Day or of workers processing those ballots. The advantage is that the assignment can be completed before the post-results rush.

There is still more election news for the inside pages. We’ll combine two Washougal city measures into a short story, and run a results rail listing the first ballot totals for 15 county charter review committee members. These races are of high interest to the county’s political insiders, some of whom are on the ballot themselves.

We will also have to find room for other news of the day, such as police and courts. Here’s hoping that Tuesday will be the dullest day of 2020 in that regard as we will surely be out of newshole by then.

Online strategy

To me, few things are more enjoyable than reading a printed newspaper on the day after a big election. But I am showing my age. As on most days, we’ll likely reach more readers online than in print. So we need to have a digital strategy.

Web Editor Amy Libby will probably end up working a long, split shift, sending out Tuesday’s Morning Briefing newsletter and then returning to keep our website fresh all evening long with national, state and local returns.

The only batch of local returns to be released on Tuesday should be available around 8:15 p.m. An editor will quickly write a web-only story rounding up the local results. Meanwhile the reporters will swing into action, calling sources and getting their reactions.

As reporters begin to file their stories, probably around 10 p.m., our copy editors will post them as soon as they are ready.

So, that’s our plan. Wish us luck! If you get a chance, drop me a note on Wednesday to let us know how we did.

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