Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

May 9, 2012

Pizza, ‘widget queen’ and vote totals: Diary of a long election night

It’s the morning after another long, exhaustive yet rewarding election night, in the newsroom. Most of us were at the newspaper into the early morning hours crunching numbers, and calling races.

Yes, we are a little tired, and a little grumpy this morning. It’s hard to get to sleep after a long election night, and it is even harder when the alarm clock goes off seemingly just a few hours later, reminding us it is time to go back to work.

But most of us in the newsroom are veterans of past elections — having covered our fair share of presidential, gubernatorial and local town, city and county elections. You had a little bit of everything last night. However, there were not any surprises on the national level. It’s now Obama versus Romney for the November ticket, as had long been predicted. The real story last night was the local races — particularly those that pitted Democrat versus Democrat for their party’s nomination, as well as Republican versus Republican for the chance to advance to the November ballot.

We began our planning for the May 8 primary weeks in advance. This included calling, and interviewing, a large number of candidates. Then came the always difficult task of writing the actual stories from the interviews. These stories are rarely short. So we have to plan plenty of “jump space” in advance to ensure that the full story can fit in the newspaper. A candidate story jointly bylined by Bill Archer and I may have set a new, modern day record, as it tallied approximately 100 inches in newsprint size.

As election night closed in, we finalized assignments for reporters and staff members. Nowadays, the whole newsroom plays a role on election night. And such was the case last night. Sports writer Tom Bone covered the Senate District 10 contest. Sports writer Bob Redd was at the Mercer County Courthouse relaying returns to veteran copy coordinator Sue Richmond, who, in return, provided the numbers to reporters and editors covering individual races. Lifestyles Editor Jamie Parsell did the morning police checks, and then spoke to voters at the polls.

Editor Samantha Perry handled Internet updates and blasts as the election results came in, as well as Facebook posts and Tweets. Part-time obit clerk Chrystal Dickens was our “widget queen,” keeping the graphics on our website updated. I was charged with covering two of the big contests in Mercer County — the commission race and the House District 27 race that included five Democrats and three Republicans.

As in past election nights, the highlight of the evening was the arrival of the pizza. Yes, an election night in the newsroom isn’t an election night without the lots of pepperoni, cheese and other toppings. Sam has now delegated this task to Jamie. The food always arrives before the polls close thus ensuring plenty of time for us to munch down on the goodies before we begin crunching actual numbers.

Things will start getting serious around 8 p.m. or so. At that point, the polls have already closed, and it normally isn’t long before the first set of numbers start rolling in. In Mercer County, we normally get the results of 10 polling precincts at a time. The first precincts to roll in can often give you an indication of which way a race may be heading — as was the case last night. However, we aren’t like CNN or Fox News. We won’t call an election with only 10 precincts, or worse yet, predict a winner based upon polling surveys before the polls actually close. No, we wait. We wait until we have as many precincts in as possible to make a call, and normally we prefer to have all of the precincts in. That isn’t always possible. So sometimes you have to make a judgment call based upon the best set of numbers of you have before deadline.

It isn’t always easy. Some races can be close — excruciatingly close. I remember a few elections in Tazewell County many years ago that were decided by only a handful of votes. Anything is possible in a county, city or town race. We do our best to get the most accurate results to our readers — both online and in our morning print edition.

We normally come into an election night with a prediction on who we think will win, and who we think will lose. Sometimes we are right, and sometimes we are wrong, with our predictions. We have all of our background information ready in advance thus allowing for the writing process to be much simpler as the actual numbers come in.

It is really and truly a unique, and rewarding, experience. It also makes for a long night. And yes, I’m probably yawning a little bit this morning. But that’s OK. I plan on getting a full night’s sleep later tonight. But at the moment, we are still reviewing final numbers, talking to winners and already making predictions regarding who will win in November.

Yes, the election season really isn’t over. In fact, it’s just getting started.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com.

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