Covering the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate was a dream come true for Washington University student media.
“In an election cycle where students will influence the outcome unlike any election in recent memory, it was exciting to be at the interface between national politics and the student body,” said junior Sam Guzik, editor in chief of Student Life, the independent newspaper of Washington University.
“I have seen so many people on campus getting passionate about the election — students joining political groups, advocating for various issues and registering to vote. We tried to channel that energy and translate the excitement from students of all political persuasions in our reporting,” he said.
Guzik and his counterparts from other student-run campus media outlets, including KWUR radio, WUTV cable television and the Washington University Political Review (WUPR), joined forces to offer an array of live media coverage from the debate and from the Danforth University Center.
The combined programming, which included pre-debate coverage hosted by WUPR journalists Brittany Parker and Greg Allen, was broadcast live on KWUR and WUTV and streamed from the Student Life Web page. WUPR was set up outside the Danforth University Center throughout the day, passing out flyers and inviting the audience to participate in trivia contests.
“It is so exciting that WUTV had the opportunity to cover something so important to the student body and the nation,” said junior Brian Whitaker, WUTV co-general manager. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
Junior Laura Harbron, WUTV co-general manager, said the candidates performed well.
“Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin did a great job,” she said. “They were both very eloquent and confident in their answers.”
Guzik said the vice presidential debate was very important for the 2008 campaign.
“The debate highlighted important issues and drew viewers from around the nation,” he said. “Especially given the circumstances surrounding both candidates and the increased power of the vice president in the post-Bush era, the debate was even more relevant to the campaign and to the political process.”
Working among approximately 3,100 credentialed journalists from around the world, the University’s student media had a hands-on learning experience.
“I operated a camera, taped interviews and shot other video of ‘Spin Alley’ alongside the national media,” Whitaker said. “I just feel lucky to have witnessed what the national media does while learning a few of their tricks.”
Both Student Life and WUTV aimed to carve their own niche in the media coverage of the debate by focusing on students.
“At WUTV, we tried to create a debate experience catered specifically toward University students,” Harbron said.
Guzik said Student Life also worked to distinguish itself from the national media.
“We wanted to provide solid political reporting through the lens of the Washington University community,” Guzik said. “We were striving to tell the story of how students, faculty and friends of the University were affected by and benefiting from the debate.”
With the new Angel and Paul Harvey Media Center in the Danforth University Center, both Student Life and WUTV were better able to cover the debate. In addition to creating workspace for student media, the center provides a professionally designed news set equipped with technology to create state-of-the-art newscasts and programs. The Harvey Media Center is supported by a $1.2 million gift from the late Lynne “Angel” Cooper Harvey and her husband, the legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey.
“Student Life’s new offices are located in the center of campus at the intersection of so many of the debate events,” Guzik said. “It was nice to be so close to the action and, at the same time, to have all the resources that the center affords.”
The WUTV staff used their new studio to broadcast several of the debate programs, such as panel discussions about the role of the vice president and pre- and post-debate rundowns.
Videos shot during the debate can be viewed at wutv.wustl.edu.
“Our new setup allows for a great freedom to do the programming we want at the quality we would like,” Harbron said.