My first time presenting an election

Last week, Britain turned out to polling stations to decide the next government to lead negotiations as we leave the EU. Theresa May’s gamble to increase her stake of power backfired, and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity has grown.

Almost immediately after May’s announcement in April, I received a text from course mate Dominika Suskova, who I co-produced Best Before End with, joking: “UKVotes17?” – a play on words from our #USVotes16 coverage. There were a handful of moments of joking around, before we realised we couldn’t say no. It took all of five minutes to make a blanket booking on the television studio for the entire week, and as I repeated the task of arranging the legal and technical paperwork, Dominika took lead on team organisation.

Balancing organisation with a huge increase in university workload since the November election, and a part-time job, was a challenge. But our friends from the various media courses could be called upon to fill the jobs in our latest project.

In comparison to our US election coverage, the biggest change I decided on was platform; moving over from YouTube to Facebook Live. I felt this was necessary for lots of different reasons, but predominantly audience. Birmingham Eastside’s audience is already on Facebook, not on YouTube, so as soon as we went live, the video is shared as an update immediately and bumped to the top of the newsfeed for all who like the page.

The second difference was duration of broadcast. In November, we struggled producing a continuous stream for the number of Horus we went live for. Instead, I insisted that we cut down to between 5-15 minute long updates on the top of every hour. This meant that the production team had chance to break regularly throughout the night, without becoming exhausted.

You can watch all of the updates on Facebook Live on my portfolio page for #UKVotes17.

As I took up the role as presenter, the short bulletin format played well as it offered me an opportunity to keep up with the results and prepare the news update myself. This was inspired by the role Chris Mace took in November, which saw him report the most recent states to be announced through Twitter Moments. Between shows, I scripted an introduction and link to news, vamp’d the update, before a pre-recorded discussion was played back.

The pre-recorded discussions were a great way of breaking each of the updates up, while also informing the audience of key talking points. Topics included health, zero-hour contracts, technology/online security, immigration, environment and housing. They were filmed earlier on election day, in the late-afternoon, so that the reporters could break before heading to the local counts.

This was another key difference between the US and UK election coverage; as we were reporting on our own election, we had the ability to send reporters to counts to feed us information live. As a local publication for Birmingham, we had somebody at each of the Birmingham counts, and were able to update our audience immediately.

We prepared for opportunities to live-stream from election counts, however poor internet strength meant this wasn’t possible. Instead, the reporters tweeted information or media, and I sorted them straight into a Twitter Moment ready for the next update. There was certainly a lot of pressure to ensure they were in on time, but if they weren’t, at a last resort I could use the time during the pre-recorded videos to fix it.

The rush, and need to get accurate information, acted as a distraction from presenting. I hadn’t the time to get overly nervous, only feeling my heart beat a bit quicker when Dominika started the countdown in my ear, and I’d see the red light flick on above the camera. But by then the autocue has started the scroll and if you’re not talking then it’s game over. The scripts read naturally, a plus point from writing them myself. The occasional ‘vamp results’ brought up little anxiety, but that was only due to a fear of not being able to pronounce place names as they came up on the television to my side.

If anything was a weight of my shoulders, it was knowing that the production gallery had it all covered. Four individuals I could trust to make it work and make it look good. There was a small newsroom at the back of the studio passing me information and gossip throughout the night to keep me informed. Both teams made my first gig as a presenter, a successful one.

Thanks guys.

In the studio: Dominika Suskova (director), Luke Brickley (sound), AJ Nixon (auto-cue), Theresa Kuhn (video playout), Athina Marini (photography/camera), Debs Hunt (camera), Vic Salvador (online), Thomaz Pires (online), Paul Bradshaw (online), Alexandra Daskalova (online), and Nuria Riquelme (online).

Reporters: Ophelie Maraval, Elis Sandford, Nilesh Patel, Rebekah Smith, Mike Smith, Dominic Sweeney, and Leeford Dean.

Dominika wrote an account of her experience producing the election coverage, which you can read here. There is also a collation of the Facebook Live videos on the Birmingham Eastside website here.

This project has also featured in the portfolio section of this website. You can watch the videos, and find other information here.