Communication students, faculty coordinate successful election night watch party

Release Date: 11/12/2012

On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 6, Clarksville and the surrounding community had a new option for local, state and national election night news. Three communication classes from University of the Ozarks teamed up for an unprecedented election night watch party that was broadcast live for almost five hours from the courthouse square in downtown Clarksville.

Director of Broadcasting Susan Edens' backpack journalism class, Assistant Professor of Communication Dr. Heather McFarland's political communication class, and Professor of Communication Dr. Greta Marlow's event planning class were all involved in the massive project.

Marlow's event planning class handled the logistics of the evening, from budgeting to lining up entertainment to organizing publicity.

Cory Pintado and Susan Edens.

Corey Pintado and Susan Edens run the master control center on the Johnson County courthouse square during the live election night coverage.

"Alicia Merritt, a junior communication major from Clarksville, and Tyra Omeir, a senior business administration major from Nicaragua, did a lot of the planning for the watch party at Fat Dawgz.," Marlow explained. "Hidenobu Kameya, a senior communication major from Costa Rica, did the publicity posters for the event, Naima Lopez, a senior marketing major from Nicaragua arranged for logistics of the stage setup, and Sharon Hurtarte, a senior marketing major from Guatemala, helped with budget. Sharon and Naima also helped on election night with figuring the percentages of people who had voted for different candidates, so we could get that information to the anchors quickly."

Edens coordinated the production from a broadcast standpoint and thoroughly enjoyed melding the three groups for this event.

"The 2008 election was the first time we collaborated with other classes and other groups, and we really liked that sense of synergy with faculty and students all working together. This time was bigger and better," Edens said.

In addition to broadcasting live local election results from the Johnson County courthouse lawn, the event included interviews with local dignitaries and a local band set up outside of Fat Dawgz, a barbecue restaurant across from the courthouse. Several political communication students were also set up inside an "analytical corner" in Fat Dawgz, using Wi-Fi to gather election results from throughout the country and making sure those results were reported accurately.

Corey Snyder reports election results.

Corey Snyder and Patience Ozuru check for election results in Fat Dawgz Barbecue restaurant during the election night coverage coordinated by Ozarks communication students and faculty.

The entire event was simulcast onto the local community access television station, Channel 6, and was also streamed live on the university's website through UStream. Kourtney Risher, a senior communication major from El Dorado, Ark., worked on campus to help ensure the simulcast and UStream ran seamlessly.

"We had a few technical hiccups, but it went as well as it could have gone," Risher said. "Sherrie Arey, dean of residential life, was our host. She and all of our sideline reporters did a great job. When they interviewed people, they asked really good questions and knew exactly what they were talking about."

Edens agreed, saying that most of the technical hiccups turned into learning experiences for the students.

"We had a slow connection at the courthouse that caused some issues," Edens said. "There were also a few misunderstandings that ended up being huge learning moments for our students. If you don't communicate with each other, things end up being missed. But, for a production of such a massive scale, it went really well."

The broadcast also included video packages and information gathered from a trip to Chicago that McFarland's political communication course took back in October.

"I knew I wanted to take my political communication students to a major campaign area during the election. When President Obama announced that his re-election headquarters would be in Chicago, we decided that's where we would go," McFarland explained. "The political communication class did most of the research up until election night as far as the national issues were concerned. In Chicago, each group was given a national issue to focus on, but their assignment was to figure out how that issue affected a local population."

Those students then brought that information back and used some of those segments in the live broadcast, including pieces on the Chicago Vietnam Memorial and Sears Tower as well as restaurant reviews.

Each class was responsible for a separate section of the production, but the teamwork and camaraderie between everyone involved made the event run smoothly.

Corey Snyder, a junior communication major from Clarksville, Tenn., was impressed with how well the entire group handled the pressure.

"Anytime you've got a high stress situation, tempers can flare, but we all came together and it worked out great," Snyder said.

Max Hilgendorf interview.

Max Hilgendorf interviews a member of the local band during the live election night coverage.

Corey Pintado, a junior communication major, agreed, including the communication faculty in his assessment. "The coolest part for me was that Susan Edens, Dr. Marlow, and Dr. McFarland became more than teachers. They were our co-workers, our friends. There was a real sense of teamwork that was bigger than just us students," he said.

In fact, an event of this magnitude goes beyond just Ozarks' campus.  The goal was to merge Ozarks with our surrounding community and offer them a service that no one else can offer. The communication department certainly did their part in making that connection stronger.

"This was probably one the proudest moments of any of our lives for our students," McFarland said. "It was so incredibly successful. It was one of those times when you can really see how well this university and the community can work together when there is a common goal in mind."

Everyone involved with the event was impressed with how readily the people of Clarksville and the Ozarks community came together for this event.

From Michelle Frost, Johnson County clerk; to Denise Key, owner of Fat Dawgz Barbecue; to the university's maintenance department, who hauled the stage pieces back and forth to the courthouse; the entire community voluntarily came together to make the night successful.