Election fever is so hot right now in Northern Ireland, and we thought we’d ask our Press Office Manager Daniel Lynch to give us an insight into what it’s like in newsrooms across the country during an election.
Last time around, I was smack bang in the middle of the election buzz, working in a busy newsroom covering Northern Ireland’s 2016 Assembly election.
Less than a year later, I’m an interested spectator with a very good idea of what my former colleagues will be going through. Working on several elections in NI and in England were some of the best experiences I had in journalism, from coffee-fuelled all nighters to the rush of juggling video feeds from several count centres.
So, specially for Clearbox, here’s my take on what TV newsrooms will be going through right now.
Election Day – Don’t mention the war…
There’s an election on. Everybody knows it’s on, hopefully many of them are taking part. But you can’t really report on it. Election rules mean that on polling day reporting restrictions are tight and the most you can really say is that it’s happening and get shots of the party leaders casting their votes. That means filling the news with anything else. Thank *insert deity here* for cat stories.
Polls Close – The calm before the storm
Working on elections in England, the newsroom was fairly calm on election day itself, but sprang into life about an hour before polls closed in preparation for an all night count. Being in work at night is a bit like being in school on a weekend, there’s a great atmosphere and everyone is hunkered down to work into the following morning. In Northern Ireland that is not the case, as counting doesn’t start until the following morning. That scenario means an odd calm and a good night’s sleep (hopefully) in anticipation for a busy day.
Counting Starts – Brace for impact
This is like the uphill bit of a rollercoaster. It can be a bit of a slog as reporters disperse to their counting centres and reestablish satellite connections tested rigorously the previous day so they can feed pictures and interviews back live. Back in the newsroom the web team will be prepping furiously to make sure everything is as it should be to coordinate reporting and social media. Producers and directors will be getting the studio and gallery ready for a marathon live broadcast, while assistants and technology geniuses will be making sure everything is in place to get material and information from counts to producers and presenters as quickly as possible.
Annnnnd Go! – Organised chaos
This is the fun bit. The first bit of information will be the turnout. This provides enough for analysts to chat at length about what it might mean for results. As the first result draws near, months of planning, stressing and preparation become a reality as reporters across the country feed information back to their newsrooms and, for TV and radio anyway, decisions are made by on air producers as to where they should take coverage. It’s frenetic, chaotic and constant, but it’s also immensely satisfying seeing all the cogs in motion. The greatest irony is that the majority of people working on the programme will see very little, if any, of the output they help create as they remain behind the scenes or at count centres until the early hours of the morning.
We Have A Winner – The end is near…
Back to the rollercoaster analogy – the first result is like the top of the climb. Rather than a sharp and rapid descent, there’s a steady trickle of results but before you know it you’re half way through and a broad picture of the result is starting to emerge. Time flies (for me anyway) after that first result and the majority of the rest you hit autopilot. Hours of research and preparation means everyone knows the significant seats, knows which results are shocks and following or even being ahead of the news is a synchronised effort.
Somewhere in between the halfway mark and the final few, the experts are able to start analysing the result as a whole and the focus shifts from covering the remaining seat results to discussing and reacting to the results as a whole.
When the final result comes in and reporters trickle back to base to recover from an exhausting day it might be the end of the election, but it will (hopefully) bring about a new government, new ministers and plenty of stories to keep the news agenda ticking over for a while…