Election Day is always an exciting and unpredictable day for any news organization. A “special” election can be even more so. Now throw in a dramatic event involving the front-running candidate on the eve of the election, and we’re at a new level. Our Montana Public Radio news team rolled with the punches, kept digging and found the latest information to best inform everyone before the polls closed on Election Day.
Our web editor Josh Burnham came into my office just before 6 p.m. on the eve of the special election to say that there was a report about Republican candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulting a reporter. Our news team went into overdrive—scrambling to confirm the facts and details of the event before going on-air and online with the story and accompanying audio.
The story blew-up everywhere that evening. The Montana House race became the lead story on national news outlets, online and social media. Our news team kept working the story. Calls were coming in from news organizations around the country and the world asking for information and comments from our reporters covering the race. Traffic on our website spiked.
Some MTPR members traveling in Europe said they heard the news there. A member of our development staff happened upon the national media when the Quist campaign, with the national press following along, swarmed into a local Missoula craft brewery. MTPR news director emeritus and host of MTPR’s Campaign Beat, Sally Mauk was featured on MSNBC. Our news and online teams stayed on late and did a fabulous job getting the latest news updated for our website throughout the evening.
Plans for Election Day had to change. The news staff was redeployed. Legislative reporter Corin Cates-Carney was off to Bozeman and Gallatin County at the crack of dawn on Thursday to get the wide range of voter reactions. Edward O’Brien was on-the-air with the latest news and reactions from Missoula County while Nicky Ouellet collected sound from Flathead and Lake County voters before driving down to Missoula to cover the Quist campaign for the evening. News director Eric Whitney coordinated the entire MTPR team, was on-the-air with updates and was feeding information and sound to the nation via the NPR newsroom and the teams at Morning Edition and All Things Considered throughout the day.
The MTPR news and online teams were live throughout election night with results and reactions from across the state. They recorded voter reactions and snapped photos at polling places. They were on location when the race was called and the candidates gave their final speeches. And they continued to feed information to our website, social media and to NPR for evening, overnight and day-after reports. The last internal email went out at 12:30 a.m. But then at 2 a.m., Corin posted that he was trying to nail down a story for later that morning. What a devoted team!
Election coverage can be exciting and unpredictable. One thing that is very predictable is the hard work by the entire MTPR news team every single day. They work to find interesting and informative stories that feature outstanding sound and storytelling. I’m so proud of their hard work on election night.
Edward O’Brien summed it up best at the end of the day in a note to the news team. He wrote, “I’m packing it up, team. Great to work with all of you.”