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Column: Good night and good luck. My first election since leaving the newsroom
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

On Tuesday, I left the office about 7:30 p.m. That’s later than usual. But so much earlier than usual considering what Tuesday was  — Election Day.

I’ve spent most every election night of the past 15 years staying up until at least 1 a.m. in a sprint to get all of the stories and results published.

Maybe I haven’t worked every single election night of my career with The Times. 

There was the year and a half or so that I worked as assistant life editor; I designed pages with recipes and event calendars and feature stories, not election content. That was back in 2008. Back when Facebook was still for young people.

It’s possible I accidentally scheduled a vacation during an off-year election. Maybe I even scheduled myself an early shift and let someone else take the night shift once or twice given that I had kids at home that needed to be up by 6 a.m. I can’t quite recall.

But every election night I remember, I’ve spent at my computer, running on adrenaline, late afternoon coffee and the traditional election night pizza.

The only thing I did this Tuesday was eat election night pizza. 

Then I told the newsroom good luck and walked out the door. 

I got home just before 8 p.m. My oldest was already asleep. I said good night to my youngest. Then I watched some TV — not election results, mind you. And about 10 p.m., I went to sleep. I could guess who was going to win the local races. I could wait until morning to learn the results of the rest.

It was strange.

Here’s how an Election Day typically goes at The Times.

Sometime before noon we get a photo at one of the polls and publish something online about Election Day. 

Most everyone works the late shift, but there’s usually one reporter responsible for covering something other than the election, or all the things other than the election. We work to get all the other content out of the way during the day. 

About 6 p.m., the election night pizza arrives. This is generally the hurry up and wait portion of the night. The polls close at 7. Results don’t start coming in until later. 

The pizza is a long-held tradition in newsrooms across the country. We did order boxes from Moes once during the bad times of the pandemic when sharing a pizza seemed like a stupid idea but we were comfortable enough that a few of us were working in the newsroom. There was at least one election we all worked from home and just talked about pizza.

Once the results start coming in though, we’re long done with the pizza and we’re checking various races and how many precincts are reporting. 

Reporters have the basics of their pieces already put together. If we feel confident in guessing the result, they may even write the lead. Some editors will write a headline on the story file; there are plenty who are superstitious about what happens when you write a headline before the race is called. It’s even riskier to write a headline on the actual page; I recommend against anything other than placeholder text like Candidate vs. Candidate. Seeing a result that hasn’t happened yet in a front page headline ties my stomach in knots for good reason. You just don’t tempt fate like that.

But once we can call the race, the copy editor writes a print headline. And we write a digital headline and post online. While the editor is doing that, the reporter is calling the winning candidate. And once the editor has the piece online, it goes in a separate file for print. Once we get closer to deadline, the print file might be done first, then online. Deadline is usually between 10 and 11 p.m. 

Then we may also try to publish the story on social media and send out an app notification. Then again, we’ve got to do all this a dozen more times in the span of less than 2 hours. It gets a little hectic. 

Somewhere amid the organized chaos, you breathe and check in with the copy desk on how they’re doing. Pages are usually built ahead of time with spaces for the stories to fit. 

So now, how does the front page look? Do we have the latest totals in the boxes with the stories? Are they missing any copy? How many pages are left? Are we on pace to make deadline?

Have we posted all the stories? Did we forget anything? Are they all updated with the final copy for tonight? Are we done?

We’ve got to put together the email newsletter for the morning. And proof it.

Now are we done? Finally, we cross the finish line.

Another election night in the books and it’s time to go home. It’s probably 1 a.m. and the adrenaline has not worn off. It’s at least 2 a.m. before I’m asleep.

The kids wake at 6:30 a.m. these days. I may try to go back to sleep after they get on the bus. But I’m still probably the first one back in the newsroom the next morning, and it hardly feels like I left at all.

Only that’s not what happened this past Tuesday and Wednesday. I was back in the office early. And I looked over the readership data on the election stories. And I asked the newsroom how it all went, because I wasn’t there.

Maybe I can get used to this. I don’t think I’m there yet.  

Shannon Casas is director of audience for Metro Market Media, parent company of The Times. She is a North Hall resident.