Debate Diary

A behind-the-scenes look at staging a presidential debate

More than 65 million people tuned into the Oct. 9 televised debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Washington University in St. Louis.

Watching at home, it can be hard to appreciate the sheer scale of the endeavor — the months of planning, weeks of labor and thousands of people it takes to host such an event. But working behind the scenes, a group of students from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts sought to document life at ground level, capturing the day with both energy and surprising intimacy.

“What we found interesting were the quiet moments that media might overlook,” said Susan Lee, a senior communication design major and one of the group’s primary illustrators. “We tried to record the real people who helped to make the debate happen.”

Working much like a news organization, the group stationed correspondents at locations around the Danforth Campus. Sketches, drawings, photographs, overheard quotes — all were relayed back to a central team of editors and designers, who then prepared material for posting to Facebook and Instagram.

“It was very immediate,” said photographer Ria Han, a senior philosophy-neuroscience-psychology major and art minor, who covered the Media Filing Center. “Things were moving so fast, and there was so much happening, it was hard to capture. That was a real challenge.”

“Campus was like a carnival without rides,” said illustrator Francesca Maida, a senior communication design major who documented crowds gathering at the stages of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, as well as the Public Expression Zone. “The energy was vibrant. Everyone wanted to voice their opinions. It was loud and fun to be there.”

Still, in many ways, it’s the quiet moments that resonate most: a parent hoisting a child, a workman bracing a ladder, a student writing a paper amidst the hullaballoo.

“We’re well known for our academics,” said Maida, who created the latter image. “The contrast of him sitting there, in this utter moment of academia, on such a crazy day. …  Those things don’t stop.

“We still have school.”

WUSTL Debate Diary Team

Art director: Michelle Kim
Designer: Patricia Witt
Editor: Abbey Maxbauer
Photographers: Ria Han and Megan Magray
Illustrators: Kat Bourek, Madeleine Gibson, Susan Lee, Shannon Levin and Francesca Maida
Faculty adviser: Douglas Dowd

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