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Dautrich experiences rigors of TV
November 9, 1998

The director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis was on MSNBC Tuesday night, providing on-air commentary. But his appearance on the national news channel was preceded by three rehearsals before Election Day.

"A lot of things go on in putting a newscast together, besides going on-air and talking," says the assistant professor of political science. "When people are watching the coverage on TV, everything appears to be neat and compact, and it looks so 'together.' But it's really haphazard; behind the camera, there are so many things going on."

In between Dautrich's three on-air appearances Tuesday night, he interpreted data from exit polls and provided analysis and direction from precinct returns to the writers, producers and anchors for NBC, CNBC, MSNBC and MSNBC's website..

Having three rehearsals before Election Day allowed Dautrich to practice quickly writing news stories that were accurate and concise.

Starting at 10 a.m. Election Day, Dautrich carefully monitored the gubernatorial races in Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maryland, and senate races in New York and Wisconsin. At noon, he was looking at portions of exit poll data that Voter News was collecting for all the major networks. After he had digested the early precinct returns and exit poll information, he said, came the real challenge: writing that was brief and to the point..

In between writing nearly 20 pieces, Dautrich was also providing on-air commentary.

"When I do interviews," he says, "I think of the one thing I want to communicate and I make sure I do it quickly."

At 5 p.m. MSNBC began reporting exit poll results which showed, Dautrich says, that people did not come out to vote for or against Bill Clinton. "It had nothing to do with the president," he told a live viewing audience..

His other MSNBC appearances focused on Democratic Party gains in the U.S. House of Representatives and the upset victory of former professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura in the Minnesota governor's race.

It was fun, he says, despite the hectic and frantic atmosphere. "Everything flew by real quickly.".

Tuesday was the first time Dautrich has worked with a network on election night. "It was amazing," he says, "especially for someone who has studied and written about the role of the media in elections. We were trying to monitor what's happening as the polls are closing and getting projections back, and at the same time taking a look at the exit poll data to figure out why certain people are losing and what the national trends are."

Dautrich, who teaches American politics and voting behavior, says his experience with the NBC networks will help him with his teaching.

"Witnessing how editorial decisions are made and what stories are prioritized," he says, "will help me prepare to teach my students how the media decide what to cover during the election."

Luis Mocete