19 Carleton Journalism students who covered the U.S. Election gather together in upstate New York.

Reporting from the Ground: Journalism Students Cover U.S. Election

By Ariel Vered

Nineteen Carleton Master of Journalism students participated in a once-in-a-lifetime experience on November 8, when the reporting skills boot camp class travelled to upstate New York to report on election day in small town USA.

The students visited polling stations, high schools, universities, party offices and the Democratic and Republican election night parties throughout Ogdensburg, Canton and Potsdam to document the historic events at the local level. The result was AmericaVotes2016.cusjc.ca, a web platform publication where they reported on and published stories throughout the day.

“It was cool to get outside the Canadian bubble,” said student Maggie Parkhill. “To go down there and see the Trump signs, it was an entirely different mindset.”

The reporting exercise gained media attention from outlets including CBC News, Ottawa Citizen, CBC Ottawa Morning radio, and the local NPR affiliate. Accompanied by Profs. Allan Thompson and Janice Tibbetts, who co-teach the boot camp class; three teaching assistants; and IT Coordinator Roger Martin, the group set up a makeshift newsroom at a local Ogdensburg B&B. Their hotel costs were covered by the Discovery Centre for Undergraduate Research and Engagement at Carleton.

Journalism Students Adapted on the Fly

With a number of interesting local races, the students adapted their stories as the election narrative mutated and submitted on-the-fly copy and quotes via Slack, a team communication app. There was little downtime as they filed story after story – when they weren’t reporting, they were writing, checking the news and tweeting using the hashtag #MJUSAVotes.

The main running story on AmericaVotes2016 changed a number of times throughout the day, from featuring the local races and what was at stake, to people feeling uneasy at the polls, to the polls closing, to waiting for the results to, finally, calling the election for Donald Trump around 3 a.m. after it was reported that Hillary Clinton had conceded.

It was a long and emotionally draining day that saw the ethnically diverse class of 14 women and five men navigate a rural upstate New York Republican stronghold that boasted Confederate flags. Fueled by adrenaline, the students spent 20 hours straight reporting the local perspective and implications of the election as the day progressed. They remarked that the experience was an excellent test of professionalism and the first time they’d worked with such an intense deadline.

“It was an incredible training experience. You couldn’t have set it up in a classroom,” said student Shauna McGinn. “There was no time to question, should I be calling this person? It was the first time I felt legit.”