The Morning After: Elections, Reporting, and Ham Biscuits

The long election season ended for me when I produced a story for WCVE Public Radio late last night, reporting Robert Hurt’s win over incumbent Tom Perriello in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. You can hear my report, which aired this morning, at the WCVE radio news archives.

I’ve been reporting on the candidates’ various debates and appearances for some months. I’ve re-entered broadcasting, albeit as a part-time professional, after focusing on other work, and I’ve marveled at the changes in radio production since I got my start in radio a few decades ago. Last night’s reporting causes further reflection on those changes.

I sat at my computer and watched live Internet streams of both the winner and the loser making their respective victory and concession speeches. I was able to make notes on both speeches, and I was able to use polling data from the Virginia State Board of Elections website to write a story that used primary, first-hand sources I could feel confident in. (Let’s not get into electronic ballots at this point, okay?)

The value of the reporter seems more important to me today. While there is plenty of information on the Internet, I can bring news judgment, understanding of sources, and background spent actually talking to the candidates and their campaigns. Would I have liked to attend each of those events last night? In some other version of my reality, I’m sure that would have been exciting and would have added another dimension to my reporting.

But to attend one campaign event would have been to miss the other, something I did not have to do in order to provide an overview story with some analysis for our WCVE listeners in the 5th District.

As usual, I gathered way more information for the story than I could possibly fit into it, and spent most of my time chipping whole sentences away. I knew I was finished when I gave up my favorite nugget — quoting newly-elected congressman Robert Hurt when he came back to the podium on the court house steps in Chatham, inviting “everyone over to the community center for a ham biscuit.”

That might have made it into a longer story, or a different story, and its quintessential southern Virginia-ness might even have made it legitimate for this story. But then I’d need to have left out something else–Perriello’s win in Charlottesvillle where President Obama campaigned for him Friday night? Hurt’s use of his victory speech to restate his philosophy of small government and low taxes? What should be omitted from the story to make room for ham biscuits, which, by the way, did make it into one story I did about a Perriello town hall meeting in Chase City? Both ham biscuits and sweet tea made it into that story. But it was in a diner, and it was about Congressman Perriello talking with southern Virginians about their concerns, and for some reason, that flavor was more necessary to the story.

And so I will continue to talk with candidates and sift information and pay attention and learn and write and tell as best I can–because candidates for 2012 are already lining up.

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