With both the Obama and Romney campaigns in desperate need of Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, all eyes will be on the state tonight. And the three news-producing stations in the state capital — WBNS, WCMH and WSYX — will be tracking and analyzing returns from across the state, watching for problems at polling places and keeping tabs on Republican and Democratic headquarters. “We are preparing for a scenario where we might not know who the president is at 11 p.m. Tuesday night,” said WBNS ND Elbert Tucker.
Columbus TV Set For A Long Election Night
With such extreme concentration by the presidential candidates on Ohio, TV stations in Columbus (DMA 32) have zealously covered the Obama-Romney showdown from the get-go and they are not letting up as voters go to the polls in the state capital today.
“We consider the presidential race to be a local election,” said Elbert Tucker, news director at WBNS, Dispatch’s CBS affiliate. “A lot of eyes are going to be on the state, and we have to be part of that.”
What that means for WBNS, as well as the market’s two other news producing stations — Media General’s NBC affiliate WCMH and Sinclair’s ABC affiliated WSYX — will be tracking and analyzing returns from across the state, watching for problems at polling places and keeping tabs on Republican and Democratic headquarters.
“We are prepared for anything,” said Tucker. “That may sound flip, but it’s the truth.”
The Columbus stations’ election coverage will move into full swing tonight at 7 p.m., a half-hour before the polls close and the same time the networks start airing their coverage.
WBNS will air its own election special from 7 to 8 p.m. before supplementing CBS’s national coverage with local six-minute cut-ins once every half hour.
WCMX and WSYX will start airing their networks’ coverage at 7 p.m., also producing cut-ins each half hour.
The stations will also be providing nonstop coverage on digital subchannels starting at 7 p.m. According to Tucker, CBS News will be simulcasting the WBNS’s nonstop coverage on its website.
The stations have rallied all their crews for election reporting, mobilizing satellite and microwave trucks and as well as backpack reporters with bonded cellular systems. The teams will stay largely in-market, dispatched to places like the Democratic and Republican headquarters and the secretary of state’s office.
WCMH has purposely not assigned its backpack reporters to any particular locations since the station is “trying to be flexible” to cover the unexpected issues and stories that are bound to crop up, said News Director Michael Fabac.
“I’m calm, which is unsettling,” he said. “We have a really good plan in place — but you never know what not to plan for.”
Working in close partnership with sister newspaper The Columbus Dispatch, WBNS’s Election Night coverage will include analysis by the paper’s Washington bureau chief and experts from both political parties, as well as a reporter who will be at the Dispatch “instantly reporting any observation or details being learned by the newspaper,” Tucker said.
WSYX will be closely monitoring “a handful of counties that are really going to call the race” with live reporters and an intricate system of computers and phone banks, said News Director Mitch Jacob. “The networks are going to be covering the nation, but we can talk about how Ohio is doing,” he said.
Jacob believes voting irregularities could be a big story. Last week, he said, it took an early voter in Marion three tries before an electronic touch screen accurately registered her vote for Romney rather than for Obama.
“Those are the issues that are popping up, and we have to respond to them because we are in the national spotlight — and the race is so tight and Ohio is so critical,” he said.
WCMH’s Fabac said his station will “weave the national perspective into our local coverage” so viewers get a better grip on how huge events like the presidential race “impact the lives and pocketbooks of Central Ohioans.”
WCMH plans to accomplish that by conducting its own exit polls “to analyze the mood and priorities of voters on election day,” he said. The station also will have interactive online maps to monitor county-by-county returns, the national electoral count and congressional balance of power.
A WCMH reporter will work with NBC News’ “Making Your Vote Count” team, which covers voting-related problems, monitoring and reporting any significant voting issues, Fabac said.
The Columbus stations must also pay attention to an extremely tight race between incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and his Republican challenger Josh Mandel as well as a host of local elections, many of which will be relegated to news tickers during the local cut-ins into network coverage, subchannels and websites.
“On air it would take forever to get through the hundreds of races that are taking place,” Jacob said.
All three affiliates report strong, collaborative relationships with their networks, sharing footage and information. NBC News’ Senior White House Correspondent Chuck Todd moderated the U.S. Senate debate WCMH ran on Oct. 25.
For the most part, though, the networks and their affiliates will be operating in separate orbs tonight. “We do our thing and they do theirs,” Jacob said.
The stations are prepared for a long night. With Ohio a virtual tossup, a host of early votes and absentee ballots to be counted and voting problems already cropping up, the Columbus news directors say memories of the Bush-Gore campaign of 2000 loom large.
“We are preparing for a scenario where we might not know who the president is at 11 p.m. Tuesday night,” Tucker said.
Although the news directors say this year’s presidential election is the biggest they have ever seen in the state, the attention not totally unfamiliar. Ohioans have voted for the winning candidate in 27 of the last 29 presidential elections, according to Time. No Republican has won the office without taking the state.
But being in the eye of the storm — even for a newsperson — can get old. “We’d love it to be over,” Jacob said.
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