By:
November 3, 2020

This column originally appeared in The Cohort, Poynter’s newsletter by and for women in media. Subscribe here to join this community of trailblazers. 


Most rituals from past elections that helped political journalists relax and rally — from catching the latest blockbuster at the movie theater before clocking in to ordering pizza for the newsroom — are not possible in a pandemic. How are the nation’s top political directors, editors and reporters mentally and emotionally gearing up for Election Day in 2020?

Many are leading coverage from home with toddlers and partners in the other room. Some are out in the field following the candidates’ final sprint. All are doing whatever it takes — mattress in front of the TV included — to rise to the occasion.

 

They are starting slow and steady

“I like to start my day at home with some quiet reflection and personal reading, and a cup of coffee with milk. I like to read books in the morning about spiritual topics that remind me there’s a bigger picture out there beyond the news.”

— Angie Drobnic Holan, editor-in-chief, PolitiFact

“I’ll be in Delaware (tonight) with Joe Biden’s campaign — so am looking forward to going to one of my favorite Wilmington, Delaware, cafes for breakfast + coffee and listening to a podcast (that probably has nothing to do with politics!)”

— Asma Khalid, political correspondent, NPR

“I try to take the day to go for a run, eat a good lunch, and sometimes — in non-COVID times — go see a movie. I know I’ll be working from the time polls close in the evening until the wee hours of the morning, so I need some time in the day to relax (as much as I can, anyway).”

— Kay Steiger, Washington editor, Vox.com

“I’ll likely start the day with a quick read of the news and emails. I’ll then retreat downstairs for yoga with my husband, followed by breakfast with my twin boys and a long walk with our dog. I need to have some peaceful low-key moments with the people that matter most to me before beginning an intense workday because I know I may not see them until much later.”

— Karen Mahabir, fact check editor, AP 

“I’ll wake up — read the news, try to do my daily exercise and meditation while resisting the temptation to check Twitter. I would like to say I’ll be taking a long hike and disconnecting until we have real results, but I expect to have a pretty hectic day. I’ll read the news at around 6 a.m. local. Hope to start posting early news stories by 7:30 a.m. and start with live shots at 9 a.m.”

—Jessica Yellin, author and host, News Not Noise

“This may be cliche but I always try to go for a run on Election Day to clear my head and refresh. I’ve been trying to keep up some semblance of a workout routine in the mornings since it’s one thing I can control during this hectic and unpredictable news cycle.”

— Caitlin Conant, political director, CBS News 

(Shutterstock)

 

They are staying off social media …

“My general advice to reporters is to stay off social media until polls close. Especially this year, it’s really tough to verify the situation at poll stations (that) voters are tweeting about around the country. Stick to what we know to be true and just hold tight until the actual results come in.”

 — Kay Steiger, Washington editor, Vox.com

“(When I am close to burning out), I take naps, reduce my social media consumption, avoid screen time binging, walk outside and eat good, fresh foods.”

— Dr. Luisa Ortiz Pérez, executive director, Vita-Activa.Org

 

… Unless it’s their job to be on social

“We have lives planned with Kerry Washington and voter protection experts, pollsters, Supreme Court experts, poll workers, voters and so many more people I can’t remember right now. My job will be to keep people informed and calm and help them pace themselves.”

—Jessica Yellin, author and host, News Not Noise

 

They are connecting with their teams

“When the workday starts, I like to make a point of connecting with my reporters and fellow editors in a casual, personal way first. I find it centering, and I like to set the tone right from the beginning that we’re all people, we’ll have each other’s back and we’ll keep it real.”

— Karen Mahabir, fact check editor, AP 

“Be compassionate and help others if you can. Our organization Vita-Activa.Org will be having a Mental Health Task Force active from Nov. 3 to Nov. 30 to support women, POC and LGBT colleagues covering the elections and its aftermath. Send them our way.”

— Dr. Luisa Ortiz Pérez, executive director, Vita-Activa.Org

“I think we’ll have a little extra team spirit, knowing we’ve closed the door on another election and done our best to inform our readers. I’ll be sure to thank everyone for all their hard work this year.”

— Angie Drobnic Holan, editor-in-chief, PolitiFact

RELATED: How to prepare for today’s election and the days that follow

They are eating whatever they want

(Shutterstock)

 

“I have had a slice of apple pie three out of the past four nights in this final stretch, and I’m honestly not even that big on sweets.”

— Caitlin Conant, political director, CBS News 

“My absolute favorite newsroom ritual, election night pizza, isn’t an option with all of us remote this year, but I’ll be ordering myself a pizza anyway in solidarity with my (virtual) colleagues.”

— Christina Prignano, senior digital editor, politics, The Boston Globe

“The kids will be off (this) week from school, and my husband will do most of the caretaking, which means we’ll order dinner. But I do that every election night. (Sushi, please.) I’ll have plenty of snacks within arm’s reach (salt and vinegar almonds, protein bars), a lot of water, diet ginger ale. … I also like to have a very nice bottle of chilled white wine on hand for when the day is done, regardless of what time that is.”

— Karen Mahabir, fact check editor, AP 

“I am going to … bake molasses cookies (I already bought emergency ice cream), get hype by listening to Journey, de-stress by listening to live Julien Baker videos, and maybe get really wild and put bourbon in my ginger kombucha.”

— Shefali Luthra, health reporter, The 19th*

“This year, between having a toddler at home (who will be home with dad this year) and being 8+ months pregnant on Election Day — I feel like making sure I eat well myself is my prime priority.”

— Asma Khalid, political correspondent, NPR

 

They are taking breaks and getting creative

“I try to schedule at least one real break … which I’ll spend taking a short walk, listening to old school rap and hip hop and checking in with my family.”

— Karen Mahabir, fact check editor, AP 

“I am going to move a mattress out to the living room and build a couch bed so that I am prepared for the likely possibility of living in front of my TV starting on Tuesday but can also pretend that I am living-room camping with my partner and pup.”

— Kate Sosin, LGBTQ+ reporter, The 19th*

“I have a 1,000-piece puzzle on my dining room table. I plan to periodically work on it when I need to step away from the computer.”

— Barbara Rodriguez, statehouses reporter, The 19th*

 

They are keeping perspective and taking time to breathe deep

“To help give everything perspective, I’ll call my parents, family, and friends to check in with them and ask how they’re doing. I’ll probably also be sure to take my dog, Charlie, on a walk.”

— Andrea Valdez, editor-in-chief, The 19th*

“When there is an avalanche of text messages, breaking news and emergency, slow down, breathe and be confident. I have been preparing for this moment my whole life … and I really love what I do. That really helps.”

— Dr. Luisa Ortiz Pérez, executive director, Vita-Activa.Org

“In all seriousness, this can be a stressful job on a good day and this is our Super Bowl. Taking time to breathe and relax with my husband Alex, almost-two-year-old son Connor (who came early and was born on Election Day during the 2018 midterms), and my dog Minnie really helps put things in perspective and keep a cool head.”

— Caitlin Conant, political director, CBS News 

 


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Mel Grau is the senior product specialist at The Poynter Institute, focusing on Poynter's training experiences and newsletters. She also edits The Cohort, Poynter’s biweekly…
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