View Full Version : NBC Seeks to Avoid Another Election-Night Debacle

10-22-2004, 06:54 AM
NBC Seeks to Avoid Another Election-Night Debacle

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Hoping to avoid a repeat of 2000's election-night disaster, NBC News brass on Wednesday outlined the steps the news division has taken to ensure accuracy in its coverage of what is expected to be a close contest between President Bush (news (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news?fr=news-storylinks&p=%22President%20Bush%22&c=&n=20&yn=c&c=news&cs=nw) - web sites (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=web-storylinks&p=President%20Bush)) and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry (news (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news?fr=news-storylinks&p=%22John%20Kerry%22&c=&n=20&yn=c&c=news&cs=nw) - web sites (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=web-storylinks&p=John%20Kerry)).

"We learned a lot four years ago, and we fixed that system," NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw said. "Four years ago, Tim (Russert) said it was 'Florida, Florida, Florida.' This year, it will be journalism, journalism, journalism."

NBC and other news outlets were forced to do an about-face on election night in the tight 2000 race between then-Vice President Al Gore (news (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news?fr=news-storylinks&p=%22Al%20Gore%22&c=&n=20&yn=c&c=news&cs=nw) - web sites (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=web-storylinks&p=Al%20Gore)) and Bush when Florida proved to be the decisive factor in the election and the networks initially called Gore as the winner of the state based largely on data from exit polls.

For NBC, the marathon coverage of election night 2004 will also mark the last major breaking-news hurrah for its longtime primary anchor Tom Brokaw, who plans to step down from "The NBC Nightly News" after the Dec. 1 broadcast. "Meet the Press" anchor Tim Russert and Brian Williams, Brokaw's "Nightly News" successor, also will be at the main anchor desk for NBC.

"We're going to get it right this time," Brokaw promised during a session with reporters Wednesday morning at NBC headquarters in New York.

Exit polling will still be used -- along with other data -- but NBC News said its computer models have been revamped. And NBC News will use Associated Press' new procedures involving actual vote counts at the county level and will take 13 absentee ballot polls instead of the three it had done four years ago to more accurately project the tally of absentee ballots.

NBC had been a partner with ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and the Associated Press in the Voter News Service consortium that handled vote count projections and exit polling on major elections. After the 2000 debacle, VNS was disbanded in favor of a new joint vote-tallying service, the National Election Pool. NBC News brass said NEP's computer models for tabulating voter data from states and counties across the country have been significantly modernized and fine-tuned to give analysts much more detailed information.

NBC News will also wait for the polls to close in a state before naming the winner; if it's close, they'll tread carefully, particularly when it comes to on-air graphics, in making any kind of call, Brokaw and NBC News president Neal Shapiro assured.

Furthermore, NBC News brass vowed that they will not allow themselves to be swayed by what their competitors are reporting. No one on the NBC News vote-count team will be allowed to watch other networks' coverage on election night. Brokaw also said NBC would take pains on the air to describe the vote-counting methodology and to explain potential problems as they occur.

NBC on Wednesday morning unveiled Democracy Plaza, its intricate set piece around Rockefeller Center where NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo will be broadcasting live on election night. Plans call for two electronic bar graphs, one Democratic and the other Republican, showing the status of the electoral vote throughout the night. Rockefeller Center's skating rink will be turned into a map, with movable blue and red pieces that will be placed on the states as they go to either the Democrat or the Republican.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter