MI First Election: Covering the Election for First-Time Voters - Live from ComArtSci

Every four years, first-time voters head to the polls to cast their vote for the next president of the United States. In an effort to give a voice to these voters and inform them about election issues and events, the School of Journalism (J-School) in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences will provide live news coverage of the 2016 presidential election through a combined effort called “MI First Election.”

​The effort will join more than 350 students, faculty, and staff from the J-School to cover events, including working with WKAR Public Media to air news packages and live cut-ins. On election day, the group will make up the largest presidential election news team in the state, covering issues at state and local levels, as well as those facing first-time voters.​

Live from ComArtSci

​On election day, J-School students will head into the field with press passes and business cards, interviewing community members everywhere, including at polling stations and watch parties. Reporting back to the college in real-time, these journalists will have access to a state-of-the-art newsroom where they can share their election day multi-media stories to the MI First Election website.

​In the newsroom, students will cover the election through blog posts, radio broadcasts, web videos, photos and social media posts. Students also will spend time producing live TV news shows such as the student-run Focal Point. In addition, the student news anchors will provide live updates during PBS NewsHour’s special coverage throughout the evening on WKAR TV in mid-Michigan.

Troy Hale, a faculty member in the J-School, was involved with MI First Election coverage in 2012, when the effort first launched, and is looking forward to this year’s iteration. “The students learn so much, and professors are having fun because students are excited about it. When students are that excited it reminds faculty about how cool it is to do what we do,” said Hale.

​The presidential election has been the focus of many journalism classes in ComArtSci since the spring of 2016, providing inspiration to students learning writing, design, information graphics, illustrations, animation and broadcast reporting. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, students have posted their stories to the J-School’s website, covering the presidential race from debates to the polls.

​Jason Ruff, a senior studying journalism, recently wrote an article on how social media’s use in elections has changed over the years. He said he looks forward to reporting on a presidential election for the first time.​

​“I think MI First Election is a good idea. It gives students the opportunity to cover a major historical event. Even for a sports broadcast guy like me, covering an election will be something special,” said Ruff. “I will be doing some on-air work, either in the field or in the newsroom. Hopefully it's the latter as I'm really looking forward to working in the new [newsroom] space.”

First time voter experiences from WKAR

​Faculty in the School of Journalism and WKAR have also assembled a team of staff and students working to capture the experiences of two first-time voters - one young Democrat and one young Republican.

​The team, including WKAR producer Nicole Zaremba and four J-School students, who are producers, editors and audio technicians, will follow a Democrat and MSU freshman, and a Republican and recent MSU graduate, as they head to the polls to vote for the first time. The WKAR team will bring to life the voting experiences of the two.

​Valerie Dorn, a senior studying media & information and one of the producers of these two stories, said she has been responsible for overseeing the project from start to finish. She determined the subjects, conducted research, created call sheets, and envisioned what the finished product will look like.

​“Being a producer is a lot of responsibility but I absolutely love it, and I had a great crew for this project so it made my experience that much better,” said Dorn. “We all had the opportunity to see how other young people our age formed their opinions and political stances on this election, and I think collectively we all found what they had to say really interesting.”

​Zaremba said this experience gives students ownership of their position in a professional setting, giving them the knowledge, skills and insights needed to prepare for the future.

​“I expect the same dedication from the students as I would from a professional freelance editor, shooter or producer. I want them to feel proud of their work and proud that their name will be on this project,” said Zaremba. “I hope they will be able to use this experience once they graduate, and that I've prepared them and given them the tools to succeed in the the fast-paced climate of television production. More importantly, if they have the passion and dedication, the skills can always be learned."

By Nikki W. O'Meara