Media Turns Out for U.S. Senate Debate


Coverage of live event is a challenge that results in some improvisations.


Media gather in the media room at the Marshall Student Center. Photo: Samira Obeid/Special to News


By Keli Sipperley and Rebecca Sitten

Special to News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 24, 2010) – Reporters arrived just before dawn, about the same time several groups of protesters assembled.


Student ambassadors greeted them at the door.


From local media to Japanese correspondents, about 75 reporters gathered at the University of South Florida for the U.S. Senate debate, aired nationally at 9 a.m. Sunday on CNN's State of the Union show hosted by Candy Crowley.


But few reporters actually attended the debate.


Media access was limited to CNN and the St. Petersburg Times; CNN held exclusive video rights. Journalists from other media outlets set up in a media room at the Marshall Student Center next door, where the debate would be shown on a large screen.


For some, it wasn’t an ideal situation.


“Because we are a TV crew, needless to say it is ... better to shoot [inside].” said Jun Oikawa, NHK Japan Broadcasting Corp. correspondent.


Reporters and bloggers set up their laptops, talked baseball and snacked on pastries as they waited for the candidates to get rolling.


But reporters expecting a live feed became disgruntled when, a few minutes before the debate was to begin, they were told that only audio would be provided because there appeared to be a technical issue.


"If there’s no video, there’s no story,” one reporter said.


Several gathered their equipment and headed to the ballroom, where the student watch party was taking place.


At least there’s video there, a reporter said.  And maybe omelettes, another said hopefully.


Reporters grumbled. Then improvised.


When the feed began -- a delayed TV feed, instead of just audio -- the debate had started, and a collective “Shh…” gave way to the sound of frantic typing, as journalists scrambled to catch up.


“It was a little bumpy,” said Catriona Stuart, a video assignment editor at the St. Petersburg Times. She had planned to stream the live feed to the Times website from the media room. Instead, she shot video of the debate on the screen.


Kim Fatica, a Bay News 9 photographer, wasn't bothered by covering the debate from the Watch Party in the Marshall Center ballroom. He said he could get the same message from there as the live debate. But it's easier to sense the audience response from inside the debate, Fatica said.


Oikawa and his news team also took in the debate at the watch party, where about 100 students were gathered.


Why make the trip from Japan?


“Japanese people are interested in the upcoming midterm election because, one, how American people are perceiving Obama’s first two years, and, two, movement of the Tea Party," he said. "By covering this race, we can show a good example of the agendas of the midterm election.”


Keli Sipperley and Rebecca Sitten are graduate journalism students in the School of Mass Communications. Their team focused on “covering the coverage” of the political debates on USF.