Election Night: Becoming a Voice of the People

By Melissa Priebe
Communications Manager

It’s just like walking into the newsroom. 

A journalist moves swiftly down the dimly lit hall, passing the quiet desks where their counterparts in advertising and circulation usually sit. Most of the office has gone home for the evening, but the news team is hard at work. Reporters create a flurry of excitement as they collect votes and public opinion—a task that spans from dawn to dusk. 

Only in ComArtSci, these are the journalists of the future. Students in the Michigan State University School of Journalism are working the Spartan Newsroom, training to become the voice of the people.

Not so long ago, I trained to become a journalist myself. I studied original sources, public affairs and the thorny topic of bias—a tendency born out of our sheer human nature. After completing J-school at Miami University, I worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Ohio and Minnesota. I even had the privilege to moderate contentious political debates during the 2016 Election, asking prying questions of the candidates for city council, mayor, the state Legislature and U.S. Congress.

Racing Voters to the Polls

Election Night is a critical time in the newsroom. For us, it meant racing the voters to the polls, calling politicians unapologetically for quotes, congratulating the mayors-elect and ordering pizza at the height of the excitement. A push to the close of the polls, followed by an adrenaline rush. 

Journalism students are learning the same democracy-sustaining game.

Early on Election Day, students and faculty in the Spartan Newsroom produced a steady hum of activity. Studying journalists moved in and out of the elaborate reporting space, loaded with notepads, cameras and tech. They visited polling locations, interviewed Spartans on the street and brought their discoveries back to the news desk. 

By evening, one look inside the Spartan Newsroom was enough to capture the commotion in a red, white and blue blur. Against a backdrop of cameras and video production gear, red and blue lights beamed across the collaborative space and into the hall.  

On the first floor of ComArtSci, I encountered a full TV crew from Focal Point. I stopped to watch a student anchor prepare for her spot in style. With ease, she stepped up on two bricks to lift herself to the same height as the video camera, and she gave the script a practice run. Inside the production studio, a young man worked rapidly to adjust the mic, and a diverse group of students typed away on their keyboards. The rhythmic tap reminded me of how empowering it is to be a journalist working on deadline.

Training to Become a Voice of the People

Students studied the political races. They recorded the views of local citizens. They searched for a broad sample of sources. They checked their facts. They even steered clear of bias. In their drive to deliver the results of a highly anticipated midterm election, they covered every angle. 

The most inspiring part of the Spartan Newsroom was bearing witness, while student reporters, producers and anchors brought Election Night home. With the words “MI First Election” broadcast under patriotic ribbons on the wall, these future journalists announced the conclusion of the U.S. election, live on the air.

A sense of honor and accomplishment filled the newsroom. Journalism professors openly expressed how proud they were of the students. Students smiled and took a moment to acknowledge how diligently they’d worked to discover the facts. They discovered a common experience of any newsroom on Election Night—that moment when the reporter can finally sleep, knowing they stayed awake while others slept to shine light on the truth.

In pursuit of their highest calling, future journalists seek the truth. They search out answers, so they can work in support of an informed public. Over the past year, we’ve watched the field of journalism be stressed and tested. We need real journalism now more than ever. 

The students coming out of the MSU School of Journalism are ready to rise to the challenge. No doubt, the lessons they learned on this night will inform their journalistic integrity throughout their careers. It’s our young journalists who give me hope for a brighter and more informed future.