Christmas for reporters

I will miss my job as a reporter tomorrow; it will be the first election night in a decade I have not worked.

Election night is like Christmas for journalists. Preparing for it can be stressful. A week in advance, you kind of dread it. But once the day arrives, everyone in the newsroom works together, shares a meal of fast food, and stays up all night. And, like Christmas, you never know what you’re going to get at the end of the evening.

I was confused by my very first election night, when I was working on the business desk for the Boston Herald. Because I was an editorial assistant on the business desk, and not the news desk, I had not heard that there would be a party in the conference room as the desk put together pages and waited for the results of the Gore/Bush 2000 election to come in. When I walked out of the newsroom for the night, one of the copy desk guys walked past me, rolling a keg towards the editors’ conference room. I should have turned around and followed him. If I had, I might have developed an understanding of what election night is for reporters. If I had, I might have been there all night, and I might have realized that we’d printed the wrong front page, announcing that Al Gore had won the election before realizing we were wrong and stopping the press run. I might have even been able to snag a copy of that front page before the Herald put all remaining copies of that press run under lock and key.

Since then, I’ve done all kinds of jobs on election night. I’ve worked the day shift and annoyed voters who were exiting the polls. I’ve worked the night shift and hung out all night with either the local Dems or the town GOP while they waited (and drank) at their respective HQs. Last year I sat at Norwalk City Hall, waiting for votes to be tallied so my editors could post the election results to the Internet. Sometimes it’s not fun. Sometimes it’s a riot – my first year in Norwalk, the local Democrats unseated all the GOP incumbents, from the mayor to the board of education. When I drove from my post at somber Republican HQ to the Dem’s headquarters, there was actually a choir singing. You’ve never seen so many surprised politicians in one place.

So it’s going to be a little odd tomorrow, when I drive home from work, listening to other people cover the election on NPR, and watching election results posted on my former employer’s web site. It will be bittersweet, but it had to happen eventually.

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