A different kind of newsroom on election night

For the past 35-plus years I have spent election nights in a variety of places as a reporter, supporter or observer.

I have spent them in county buildings, at victory parties, and at loser headquarters.  I have spent election nights covering local, regional, state wide and congressional races.

However, on Tuesday night, I was in a newsroom unlike any other I had been in election night.  A high school newsroom.

As my student journalists feverishly worked on the November issue, the sounds of election returns from TVs and laptops permeated the otherwise heated discussion about who was bringing dinner and what were they bringing.  High school kids have their priorities.

As the evening went on and the returns began to, at first filter in, and then fly in, it was fascinating to watch and listen to the reactions of the students.  A mock election earlier in the week had, to no surprise, had President Obama winning in a landslide.  The students knew, however, that the outcome, especially the margin of victory, was probably not going to be the same.

Every projection by then networks brought a new round of analysis from the kids.  This is what made the evening so interesting.

Unlike my previous election nights, this one was not dominated by what party had carried what precincts.  Instead it was "Do you believe he actually likes Romney?"  For the most part, most of the students couldn't say why they supported Obama -- they just liked him.  Same was true for Tammy Duckworth.

And while their skills as political analysts were somewhat short of the seasoned pros, at least they were following the process.  This, of course, is gratifying in the age where news consumers grab bits and pieces of information from social media, the internet or -- amazingly enough -- a newspaper.

It was especially intriguing to me because among the students working on the paper Tuesday night -- none were old enough to vote.  Surprisingly, two had actually served as election judges.  Granted, a $170 a day may have played into it, but in an age where news literacy skills are not a priority, it is gratifying to see adolescents take not only an interest in it, but to actually participate in the electoral process.

One student admitted that she was consumed by it and had followed the campaign of both candidates.  She spent considerable time watching the returns, making some observations and asking me my opinion because, well, I'm "old".

Aside from the issues, some students questioned the projection of winners before the polls had closed on the west coast.  But once those polls closed, they began to guess which state would push Obama over the top -- Washington or Oregon.

And when it was clear Obama would win, there was a collective shout of celebration.  The one student who had been following the campaign said her friends would be glad because she had talked so much about the election.  "One of my friends said I sounded like I was 30," she said.

Thirty?  Gads, that's old.  As much as I wanted to say "When I was your age, we never trusted anyone over 30."  But I resisted the urge -- probably because I am, to put it mildly, long past 30.

And as the kids grabbed more snacks (a staple in a high school newsroom) and worked on their page, I heard one girl, of Mexican descent, say she was glad Obama won.  Not because of the economy.  Not because of foreign policy.

Because, she said, "Now my family can stay here.  They actually moved out of Arizona, but now they can stay here."

I suppose it is great that she has learned about the American political system and has taken an interest in it.  Even if it was motivated by fear.

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  • I think that this shows that most of the students are not taught to think rationally and are instead just functioning on emotion.

    Unfortunately, rational thought and its consequences will one day take hold of the reality of these students and their lives, because rational thought -- in the very long run-- will, like the math it is, fully measure out.

    Then the emotions will be much different.

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