Capitalizing on a relationship formed in 2019 between the College of Media & Communication and Manchester Metropolitan University, journalism students from Lucinda Holt's reporting class were invited to participate in a joint coverage of the 2020 United States presidential election with their politically familiar Atlantic peers.
Eleanor Shember-Critchley, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in journalism in Manchester Metropolitan's Department of Languages, Information, and Communications, reached out to Robert Peaslee, Ph.D., chair for the college's Department of Journalism & Creative Media Industries, with a unique opportunity to virtually connect journalism students six times zones away from each other to cover the election. Holt, a journalism instructor and the faculty advisor for TheHub@TTU, helped coordinate this international partnership, establishing an online newsroom using GroupMe and Zoom to communicate with students about leading results and what to expect on election night.
“From a journalistic perspective, we're used to burning the midnight oil,” Holt said. “We're all together, we're sharing ideas, talking to neighbors, going out to watch parties, talking to candidates. This was a unique student situation. How could we lead a group of students into this election coverage amid a pandemic without losing the experience?”
Holt coordinated interviews with West Texas-area representatives and provided her reporting students the opportunity to interview them in a professional setting. She also arranged for Manchester Metropolitan students to assist with the interviews. Lubbock County Commissioner Jason Corley, Lubbock County Democratic Party Chair Gracie Gomez, and former Lubbock County Republican Party executive committee member Jim Baxa were present in the live, online newsroom to answer questions. Issues such as abortion, suspicion of electoral fraud, and future predictions were some of the topics covered during the Zoom call.
Amidst varied and opinionated topics, journalism students from both universities supported each other during this immersive, professional experience. Likewise, the students in Manchester interviewed their Texas Tech counterparts for their perspectives on the election.
Manchester Metropolitan's interest in the presidential election focuses on future U.S. policies affecting the United Kingdom's 2020 withdrawal from the European Union, otherwise known as Brexit, and the U.S. approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Manchester Metropolitan coordinated with other U.S.-based institutions, including Ohio University and Michigan State University, to document different national perspectives on the election.
The collaborative experience allowed Holt, a Lubbock-based journalist, to shed a professional light on the significance of being observant, as well as the importance of covering all facets of a story, especially during a time of political polarization and global pandemic.
“It's important for students to have a multi-faceted story in a safe and factual manner,” Holt said. “With social media and everything being online, I always tell my students it's easy to believe there are only two sides to a story. I disagree, stories are multi-faceted. As a journalist, it's very important to get all sides of the story.”
Holt and Shember-Critchley used their partnership to stress the importance of reaching a global audience with consideration for obtaining factual evidence and representing all parties involved in the story.
“In an area of immediacy, it's easy to speak to one or two people, then publish what you have,” Holt said. “But I want my students to take their time and cultivate a truly factual story. That's why I arranged the meetings on election night with Democratic and Republican representatives, so they got a good mix of everything.”
The virtual newsroom propelled students to actively report and follow the election, which served as a valuable experience for all the journalism students in their upcoming careers. Both universities showed an equal amount of ambition in covering the presidential election and stayed online throughout the night.
“This was a high-stakes election,” Shember-Crichtley said, “not just for the U.S. but keenly felt internationally. The collaboration put students in front of candidates and party representatives so that, for the first time, they got a sense of what it was really like to report from such a polarized political landscape. This couldn't have happened without Lucinda's mutual interest in working together, her thoroughly planned approach, and warm welcome. This was reflected by her students so that our reporting team and tutors came away feeling enriched professionally and personally.”
Although Manchester is a 10-hour-long flight and an ocean away from Lubbock, Holt remarked how humanizing it was to see the journalism experience parallel those across the world, especially in her own reporting class.
“Those guys did not sleep,” Holt said of the students in Manchester. “We covered the election from 7 a.m. until about 1:30 a.m. For them, that was about the whole night. So, as we were wrapping up on our end, their instructor, Shember-Critchley, had to take her kids to school.”
Shember-Critchley would not have had it any other way, though.
“Our students highly appreciate collaborative opportunities because it's their chance to put their skills into practice within a transnational team, reflecting the industry they aim to enter,” she said. “For the TTU/Manchester Met collaboration, it also opened a window into the lives of journalism students in Texas. Our students loved hearing about Lubbock County, the campus, and what it's like to be a student reporter there.”
View the students' election night coverage at TheHub@TTU.