Election Night 2020 with the TUTV Media Lab team -
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Election Night 2020 with the TUTV Media Lab team

By: Ryan Bennett

Nov. 3, 2020, was a big day for people across the United States and many other parts of the world. For several University of Tulsa students who are members of the TUTV Media Lab, however, Election Day seemed more like a weeklong event.

The TUTV Media Lab is a student-run media collaborative that’s home to podcasts, production facilities for students to create their own multimedia projects and my personal favorite, a weekly newscast. Each Tuesday, TUTV members work together to produce a studio show covering news from the campus level to the global. “This program has been produced weekly since at least the early 1980s,” said Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Film Studies Justin Rawlins, TUTV’s faculty advisor and executive producer. “It’s a TU institution.”

I joined TUTV for the spring 2020 season, beginning as a sports anchor — despite the fact that I knew little about sports. This is not uncommon at TUTV, where mentorship from experienced peers enables everyone, regardless of their background, to learn skills they are interested in. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cut my time in the studio short. Following safety protocols, we TUTV members returned to the studio for our fall 2020 season, where I have been working as an entertainment anchor and the news producer writing scripts for the weekly show’s news segment.

Livestream fall 2020: Election Day (and Night) in America

A woman sitting at an audio control board looking through a window at a TV studio
Senior Audio Producer Aubrey Allen monitors the Studio A floor during the livestream

The weekly show is fairly easy for us to produce, as we spend roughly three days writing scripts, holding meetings and then taping and editing the show before releasing it. In addition to these shows and all the other content TUTV produces, we also organize a multi-hour livestream each semester. These livestream events are another matter entirely. Running three hours long, these large-scale productions involve a diverse range of live and pre-taped material. While past livestreams have been documented events such as the 2018 midterm elections and 2019 Super Tuesday primaries, this season’s event covered the 2020 U.S. election.

This semester’s livestream was the culmination of six months of strenuous work. Ever since July, TUTV producers have been meeting regularly to discuss ideas for live and recorded segments, as well as the overall logistics of the production. TUTV Senior Field Producer Lily Hargett, a history and education double major, oversaw the livestream’s pre-taped material and acknowledged the complex organization needed to make the show happen. “This livestream is the first one that we have spent over six months planning for,” Hargett remarked. “We wanted to make sure to create diverse content that spoke to all audiences. Not only that, but we wanted to interview individuals from Tulsa’s local government to show that with voting in the general election we are [also] voting to improve our local government.”

View of Studio A and TUTV members from behind the anchors’ desk
View of Studio A and TUTV members from behind the anchors’ desk

During this year’s election livestream, I worked as a producer, anchor and member of the breaking news team. I originally planned only to stay for the first two hours of the show, but I ultimately stayed for much longer to assist the breaking news team.

Working as a producer and anchor was mostly business as usual, although my scripts were more politically-oriented than usual and I spent much more time than usual on screen. This was just fine by me; anchoring is my favorite thing to do at TUTV.

The evening’s most intense job involved breaking news. A team of two to three people worked together to compile bits of rapidly unfolding information into stories to be read on the air, sometimes less than a minute later. Something that is important with this job is the ability to “cold read” on air with little to no advance time to practice your script.

Ryan Bennett at a desk in front of Studio B’s green screen, reading breaking news from my laptop
Me in front of Studio B’s green screen, reading breaking news from my laptop

During one segment, for example, I read a script as it was actively being edited by the other breaking news team members. Sam Modde, a junior film studies and media studies double major and the director of the TUTV Media Lab, has been involved with TUTV for the past three years. He observed that our Election 2020 livestream presented unique challenges for him and the Media Lab: “Running a livestream in real time is a tricky juggling act. Each level of graphics, images, cameras, teleprompters and talent operates under the management of 18 different members and requires meticulous coordination between them in real time.”

Since everyone was so busy the entire night, the time flew by. Before I knew it, I had been in the studio for four hours. I was exhausted. When I finally got into bed later that night, I was awake for hours, switching between thinking about the everchanging election results and telling my friends about all that I had done earlier that evening.

TUTV: A tight-knit, hard-working team

TUTV is the most involved and tight-knit organization I’ve been involved with in my college career, and I’m extremely proud of the work that we put out week after week. We always try to keep our content fresh and relevant, and I think that’s reflected in the quality of our productions.

The sense of community that comes with working with a group like the Media Lab is great, and these relationships endure both personally and professionally. For media studies major and TUTV Assistant Director Wes Addington, the teamwork involved in putting the weekly show and livestream together has been amazing to see: “This livestream was the biggest project I’ve ever been a part of. Over 20 students giving their time to contribute to discussions, video segments and even breaking news, all with a whole team working behind the scenes to keep the stream up and running, was an incredible thing to be a part of.”

Interested in learning more about the TUTV Media Lab? Contact them at tutv74104@gmail.com or email Professor Rawlins at justin-rawlins@utulsa.edu.

About the author

Ryan Bennett wearing a blue shirtRyan Bennett is majoring in media studies with a minor in sociology. His interests are focused on news writing and producing, photography, and editing.