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Election eves are tiring, but I never grow tired of them



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Halverson (click for larger version)
April 11, 2012 | 07:25 AM
There's nothing like a newsroom on election night.

Regional News Reporter Chris Schultz bursting into the Regional News with results from the city. Reporter Rob Ireland calling in from Fontana with results to go up on the web. Reporter Steve Targo guessing wrong on just about every race he was covering. Two pizzas, steaming on a desk, waiting to be eaten.

And the clock ticking.

"When is our drop dead time?" Rob asked, his fingers pounding on the computer.

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"10:30," I said.

"What if we don't make it?" he asked.

It was already 10:15 and I didn't have a very good answer. But I trusted when I came in the next morning there would be papers on the counter as always. We've been going 172 years, through more than that many elections and, to my knowledge at least, we've never missed a publishing day. Oh, there was that Ground Hog Day snowstorm a year ago. But even then the paper got printed. We just weren't able to deliver it until a day later.

There was that time, a few years ago at a different paper, before it was delivered electronically, when I was driving the physical pages to the pressroom 20 miles away. I caught a patch of ice and headed toward a telephone pole. My last thoughts were not about watching my life pass before me — there wasn't time for that — but whether or not the paper would get printed that week. I survived and so did the paper.

Once someone else was set to deliver the paper and his house burned down the night before. About the time I was going to give up and tell the pressroom it wasn't coming, he walked in the door.

I'm mostly taking up a chair these days, filling in while we search for a new editor, still learning procedures and the computer programs. The others were out doing real work — gathering the vote totals, interviewing people. I was left behind Tuesday night, in a silent newsroom, with what I was told was the most important duty of the night — ordering pizza.

Then the phone rang. A reporter? Someone calling in for results? No. It was just-departed editor Lisa Seiser, calling from her new newpaper in Kansas. She was fired up. After all, it was another election night for her, too. We talked for a half hour, feeding off the fumes of the election night fire.

A few minutes later, an e-mail came from Scott Angus, editor of the Janesville Gazette where I once worked. "Actually, I'm off this week," he said, "but I'm in on election night. Couldn't miss the excitement — and the pizza."

Elections are always tedious, nerve-racking and error prone all at the same time. This year there were mistakes on our part with one of the questionnaires we printed. Another candidate wrote inaccurate information in his Q&A. We've talked about it and next year we're planning to run the candidate Q&As a week earlier to make sure any mistakes can be dealt with before the election. I doubt we affected anything, but there's always the chance we could. Lessons learned.

By the time we finished up Tuesday night, it was 11:30, a 16-hour day for some of us. When we got the call from our pressroom in Janesville that all was well, I think we were all too tired to sigh in relief.

Rob, who had done most of the design work for the paper, left first. I was right behind him. As I turned to leave, Chris was stretched out on a chair, tired or relieved or just comfortable. I wasn't sure. The next morning he confessed, "I knew there was something I was supposed to do. I just couldn't remember what it was."

I had one more stop that night.

Speedo Condos had called earlier in the day. He was having a post-election party at his restaurant. In an ecumenical spirit he said he had invited everyone, winners, losers, even journalists. A good newsman can't miss a beer after the paper has been put to bed, so I headed toward Harborside Cafe.

As I rounded the corner past the library, onto Wrigley Drive, I saw Speedo's place was dark, save for those colorful lights he keeps on inside. Chairs were stacked neatly as though they were resting for the day ahead, worn out from election eve.

For me, the night was done. There was nowhere to go but home.

I had a dream that night that I was skiing down a hill. There was a man holding a ribbon at the finish line. I raced through it, and felt like I had won something.

Halverson is the general manager and interim editor of the Regional News.

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