Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Election Night at the University of Winchester

Standing outside the University of Winchester on the evening of Thursday 6th of May, the atmosphere seems quiet with students leaving after their lectures. Enter the journalism newsroom and the atmosphere completely changes. Filling the room are second year journalism students, many dressed in suits, ready to appear in front of the camera. BBC news broadcasts about the election are playing in the background.
As the clock ticks closer to 10 o’clock, when WINOL goes live, the students become increasingly frantic. Many rush back and forth from the gallery, others pace up and down the newsroom rehearsing scripts.
10 o’clock arrives and WINOL is live. First year students post the link to the broadcast all over their facebook pages, trying to get as many people to watch as possible. Others keep an eye on mainstream broadcasts from ITV and the BBC, to monitor their coverage and listen to the latest predictions on whether the outcome will be a hung parliament.
Down in the studio, the main presenter Graham Bell is into the swing of the evening, confidently talking about the election campaigns, debating the success of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservative parties. Everything seems to be going smoothly until technical difficulties strike. Although trying to stay calm, mild panic is apparent as the students try to recover from the error, which they do efficiently. Outside broadcasts from vote counts across the local area are being shown via Skype, a first for broadcasting.
In the multimedia centre a team of four smartly dressed male students anxiously wait for their moment on camera. Each of them has a scripted piece on either Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservative or other parties such as UKIP. One of the students, wearing a white shirt, with a smart tie, paces around the room, reading his script aloud, stopping occasionally making slight hand gestures to emphasize his words. Then the count- down comes from the gallery and one of the students rushes in front of the camera ready to speak, quickly looking over what he had written down one more time. Each of them says their piece on the latest news on the political parties and a look of relief is apparent as their first camera appearance is over.
Back in the gallery, the students seem at ease running the operation. Instructions are continuously fed to those down in the studio, making sure every camera angle is perfect and all the right things are said.
Despite the previous lack of success with the outside broadcasts via Skype, the students persevere with the method and it eventually brings them luck. Students stationed at the vote counts in Andover and Winchester effectively broadcast news live to the studio, giving the whole situation a more professional feel, making the students feel like real journalists.
Heading back to the newsroom, updates are constant from the BBC and other main stations and the students ensure they are watching for any information that may be relevant. Kingston University phone lecturer Chris Horrie to reveal that an exit poll on the students that voted showed that 61% had voted Liberal Democrat. This information is quickly relayed to one of the presenters for their next package.
The newsroom computers all show the WINOL broadcast or prints of scripts and election figures and facts. Everyone has completely thrown themselves into the spirit of politics, the desks are awash with the days papers, David Cameron’s face plastered all over the front of ‘The Sun.’
Walking back through the multimedia centre, a first year rushes in excitedly declaring the BBC have shown interest in the broadcast and if possible want to use one of the packages produced. Unfortunately, this does not quite go to plan as the outside broadcast from the New Forest fails to work due to a poor internet connection. But the fact the BBC are even interested is enough to keep the students motivated.
Halfway through the night and fatigue starts to set in, coffee cups and cans of energy drinks are strewn everywhere. The atmosphere is still buzzing, knowing that there are still up to four hours to fill. Everybody is determined to last out until the Winchester election vote is called out, hoping that WINOL will be the first to screen the news.
As the night progresses, proceedings continue to run smoothly enough, there are a few further technical difficulties and issues with sound but the students do not seem to let this phase them, they simply recover and move on. A very professional attitude.
Nearing 4am coffee cups continue to mount and camera shifts change to give people a break. The Winchester vote has still not been announced; raising tensions about who the new candidate will be. Opinions fly between the students as they debate whether Martin Tod will succeed.
The four men in the multimedia centre have done their work for the night and adopt a more relaxed stance as they can now take in and appreciate everything else that is going on. The gallery is still fairly frantic, instructions being batted back and forth from the studio, screens showing every camera and analysing each lens angle.
In the studio, Graham is aptly filling out the time and building the anticipation until the Winchester results come through. Thankfully the outside broadcasting to the vote count at Winchester Leisure Centre seems to be working in order, with regular updates coming through.
The time eventually ticks round to just gone half past five and the moment everyone has been waiting for... WINOL broadcast Winchester election results live! Conservative candidate Steve Brine wins the vote. There is a definite feeling of accomplishment and most certainly relief that the cameras can now be shut off and the champagne can be opened.

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