BYU students get firsthand experience covering election

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Gianluca Cuestas
BYU communications students Sarah Averett and Haley Hilton sit with their professor Carrie Moore on the UNLV campus. The students covered the final presidential debate. (Gianluca Cuestas)

Fifteen BYU students are gaining firsthand experience this semester as they cover the 2016 presidential election.

Eight students recently traveled to Las Vegas to report on the final presidential debate, and seven will travel to the District of Columbia to cover the election in November.

Reporters Sarah Averett, Haley Hilton and Ryan Morgan, along with photographer Gianluca Cuestas and four other students, were in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 19, covering events surrounding the final debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Averett and Morgan are both seniors in the news media program. The group arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 18, and immediately started preparing for the debates, contacting sources for stories and filling out schedules. The following day, they went to a wall of taco trucks surrounding Trump Tower, interviewed people on the streets and took photographs. Afterward, the group traveled to University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), where the debates took place and interviewed individuals on the campus.

The reporters asked questions focused around Trump’s chances of winning the election following his drop in the polls, the controversies behind Trump’s claims of the election being rigged, people’s concerns on media bias and their thoughts on inaccuracies in fact-checking.

Averett said the atmosphere surrounding UNLV and the debates was expressive and emotional.

“There were a lot of emotions around there, especially yesterday (Tuesday) leading up to the debate when we saw protests and many people with strong feelings on the UNLV campus,” Averett said. “People are very passionate about where they want the country to go, and there was a lot of expression of that in Las Vegas.”

Morgan recalled a different perspective on the atmosphere of the debates.

“There was a lot of nervousness outside of the debate hall. People weren’t so noisy or boisterous,” Morgan said. “What we really see are people who are quiet, with some discussions. But mostly we saw a lot of people who were sitting there watching the TV screen, and you can tell that they were really invested in hearing what their future was going to be.”

The students gained real experience and exposure thanks to their reporting in Las Vegas. NBC even linked to one of Hilton’s stories on their website.

Students going to the District are getting ready to cover the presidential election.

Reporters Sydney Jorgensen and Lauren Larson, along with photographer Maddi Dayton and four more students, are about to cover the events surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Jorgensen and Larson are news media majors enrolled in an advanced news reporting class, and they will travel to the nation’s capital from Nov. 5-9.

Jorgensen and Larson have prepared by studying the debates, watching a two-hour documentary on both candidates, reading articles online, studying each candidate’s platforms and policies and talking to several individuals about their opinions.

Jorgensen previously wrote for The Daily Universe as a sports reporter, so she is fairly new to the world of politics.

“Before I avoided politics in conversation, but now I’m constantly bringing it up and want to know what people think and hear what they have to say,” Jorgensen said. “It’s at the forefront of my mind, and it wasn’t before.”

Jorgensen said her goal is to connect the District to the BYU audience. She plans on interviewing students attending the Washington seminar and BYU graduates who work at Capitol Hill. She said she’s looking forward to gaining real-life reporting skills, talking to people and making connections while there.

Larson previously covered the Utah legislation session for The Daily Universe, which she said piqued her interest in politics. She is looking forward to giving people who aren’t in the capitol a broader perspective and greater understanding of the election processes.

“I’ve never covered this big of an event,” Larson said. “I’m hoping to be very aware of what’s happening, and hopefully that will translate to the rest of my journalism career of catching things that others may have missed.”