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Glenn Halbrooks

Last-Minute Lessons on Covering Election Day

By November 5, 2012

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In a matter of hours, the 2012 presidential election will shift its focus. Millions of voters who've listened to President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for months will instead turn their attention to people like Diane Sawyer, Scott Pelley or Brian Williams of ABC, CBS or NBC.

A photo of President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney
President Obama and Mitt Romney will join the rest of the nation in watching TV as the 2012 presidential election results come in.
Photo © Getty Images
Each of these anchors and their news divisions have spent months preparing for election night. The big questions they face are when to call various states for either of the candidates, how and when to call the race and how to avoid the debacle of 2000, when the predecessors in their anchor seats had to backtrack on calling Florida and the election.

If you work in news media, chances are you don't face that same kind of pressure on election night. But even if you're hanging out at the county courthouse waiting to see how a sheriff's race turns out, remember these important lessons from presidential-level political coverage:

Keep you emotions in check: If you're at a campaign party, it's easy to get caught up in the emotional roller-coaster as the returns come in and hundreds of people in the room react to them. Even if you're job is to "present the mood", report the facts without cheering or sobbing with those you're covering.

Verify your facts: People from a campaign will be feeding you information all evening. Some of it will be their own wishful thinking and not necessarily the truth. If the candidate is struggling as early numbers come in, expect to hear all sorts of explanations. If you report them, make sure to attribute the information to the campaign, so that viewers don't think it's your own analysis.

Watch the Electoral Map closely: If you're reporting on the presidential race, remember that states will only be called after the polls close. Time zones play a big role throughout the evening, and will likely skew the map temporarily toward one candidate. President Obama is expected to do well in the northeast, which is in the Eastern Time Zone, while Romney will pick up many states in the Central Time Zone. So they may swap the lead, while battleground states like Florida and Ohio will likely still be too close to call. President Obama is expected to easily carry California, Oregon and Washington, which add up to 74 electoral votes, but those states won't be called until three hours after the east coast. Before using Twitter to declare a candidate is in trouble, check to see which states have yet to be called.

Election night is one of the most exciting times for anyone working in news media. Make sure your excitement doesn't prevent you from covering the night's news accurately.

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