In 30 years of reporting I can safely say I have never seen anything like this before. It’s an incredible experience to be this close to a space where politics and journalism collide. If you’re a political junkie like I am, it’s pretty close to nirvana.
I’m also hoping that the experience will convince some journalism students to focus on political reporting. As an Assistant Professor at Hofstra in the journalism department, I recognize a major teaching moment.
It has been truly amazing. I pulled into the gas station outside Hofstra Sunday afternoon beside a massive truck carrying the rig for the MSNBC stage.
As I filled my car with its 16 gallons, I asked the driver how long he would be. “About 25 minutes,” he said. “This thing takes about 350 gallons.”
That’s how Hofstra is at the moment. Everything is much, much bigger in presidential debate land. An ordinary trip to the gas station takes on a new and larger dimension as we sit in the middle of the media storm surrounding the second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former M.A. Governor Mitt Romney.
Students walked to classes Monday morning to find their university had been transformed into a gigantic parallel universe populated almost entirely by news media. Hundreds of reporters milled round every walkway on the north campus.
The buzz is everywhere.
There are media trucks and cameras at every corner waiting to ask passing students yet another question. “I feel like a celebrity,” said one as she walked by an MTV crew filming student reactions to the media invasion.
The campus is split in two by Hempstead Turnpike and all of the debate activity is taking place on the north campus which houses several buildings, dorms, parking lots, and athletic fields as well as the David S Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex (now known as the Debate Hall) and the Physical Fitness Center (now known as the Media Filing Center).
There are 3,375 credentialed reporters for this debate and it’s a veritable alphabet soup of TV and radio networks with MTV, CBS, NPR, Fox, ABC, NBC and CNN among the most prominent. There is a huge contingent from overseas but only one reporter listed from an Irish outlet; John O’Riordan from the Irish Examiner. “New” media is also visible with Twitter and Google placed in the first couple of rows of the media center.
The debate proper will take place in the Mack Complex in front of a small audience while the much larger media audience will watch the debate via monitors in the adjacent Fitness Center. This means that the candidates are removed from the Spin Alley location where the debate will be debated by journalists and campaign staffers.
Wooden platforms for TV reporters have sprung up outside the Mack Complex where the networks are housed in mini-tents underneath an enormous frame of floodlights. The CNN Election Express bus is parked in what used to be a student parking lot and there are dozens of TV trucks and mobile generators packed in beside it.
I manage Long Island Report, which is the student news site at Hofstra, and we soon realized we couldn’t compete with this kind of media firepower. We’re going to spend the day aggregating social media and creating Storifies from tweets, pictures, and video submitted by students via Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter.
It is all about social media reporting and high-stakes political theater.
Wouldn’t miss it for the world!
Irish-born Kelly Fincham is an assistant professor of journalism at Hofstra University.