I subscribe to several newsletters specific to the journalism industry. One of those is produced by Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab and sent out each weekday afternoon.
Wednesday’s email had this as its lead headline: “In cities across America, this morning’s newspaper told you there was an election yesterday — but nothing about it.”
Essentially, hundreds of newspapers across the country did not “hold the press” Tuesday night to get the latest election news in the paper for their readers. Instead, those papers kept regular press times and gave people “overviews” and big-pictures analyses that any blathering cable-network commentator could conjure.
The papers featured front-page boxes promoting “full details” on their websites that are so full of winking, blinking ads and auto-roll video commercials that you can’t find the news or tolerate the distraction long enough to read it.
Sadly, in communities large and small, this is what passes for election coverage anymore. Not so here in Moore County and The Pilot. As you saw this past week, The Pilot has prided itself on its ability to get election results into the Wednesday paper.
Informing a community about elections and who its officials are represents one of the fundamental duties of a free press. It is not hyperbole to say that democracy commands a free press to make the public aware of its governors.
We uphold that obligation here on our own little Pennsylvania Avenue. Since we no longer print our own newspaper, we work with our printing partner in Raleigh to set deadlines and delivery details that are different from a normal Tuesday night.
On Election Day, we produce every page of The Pilot as normal, with the exception of two: the front page and an inside “jump” page, which contains the story continuations from the front page. This year, we requested an 11:30 p.m. deadline to send our final page. Instead of going to press before The News & Observer of Raleigh, we’d be going after it.
The paper, after printing, would get sent on a dedicated truck to Southern Pines and be assembled as a “two part” paper. Essentially, that meant the circulars, rather than being stuck inside the full paper, would be inserted into a separate “jacket” and bagged with the four-section Pilot. All of that is more expensive and time consuming but — again — worth it in the big picture.
The entire staff worked a full day Tuesday, took a short break around dinner time, and then came back to the newsroom for “round two.”
The staff don’t just sit at their desks and wait for results to pop up on the computer. We send everyone out to about 20 of the county’s 26 precincts to gather results from each of those precincts. The staff take pictures of the posted results and then text those pictures back to me in the office, where I compile a spreadsheet. In this way, we get results faster for you, sometimes running an hour or more ahead of the official release.
Reporters make their way back to the office from their assigned precincts and then begin writing their stories. Results first got posted to The Pilot Facebook page for immediate consumption. Then, as stories were completed, the full reports were published on thepilot.com.
This year, we sent our final page at 11:15 p.m., beating deadline by 15 minutes. Wednesday’s paper included complete but “unofficial” results from every race that mattered to Moore County.
The news staff doesn’t do all the work. Co-workers in other departments fanned out to polls to collect numbers for us. Our new finance director, Steve Anderson, waited more than 90 minutes to get results at the poll in Seven Lakes because of the huge turnout there. PineStraw creative director Andie Rose jumped in her car after finishing her poll and subbed in for another colleague at a different poll. And our carriers put up with the later delivery and two-part paper to still get it out to you by mid morning.
We were also blessed by the generosity of our teammates at The Country Bookshop, who bought the traditional election night pizza, and our advertising teammates, who catered in a Wednesday breakfast for the bleary-eyed news team.
Election night in America is one of the fundamentally defining events of this nation. Publishing results to the electorate is the privilege and duty of a free press. I don’t know about the strategy for other newsrooms in this digital age, but here at The Pilot, we are still proud to call up and say, “Hold the press.”