Communication Studies 2016

SMU communication students served as research assistants during the presidential primaries. They assisted Rita Kirk, SMU communications professor and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, who also serves as a CNN consultant.

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Not Your Everyday Class

An update from Anthony, a senior majoring in political science:

Feb. 1, 2016

Usually, in the morning before class I wake up at 5 a.m., shower, have a bite to eat, put on a decent pair of jeans, a not-so-wrinkled shirt, and some sneaks or boots. I grab my books and notes, place them in my aging mahogany-colored satchel, and head off into the thick of 7 a.m. traffic to reach campus by 9 a.m. Today was different.

I woke up at 2 a.m., grabbed a bite to eat, showered and donned a freshly pressed shirt and tie, along with my nicely tailored black pants and jacket to match, and a brand-new pair of nicely polished black leather shoes. Along with my satchel, I also had in tow a small carry-on bag to bring with me to class. A carry- on bag, one may ask? What type of class is this? Clearly, not an ordinary one.

Normally this class runs Tuesdays, 9:30 -10:50 a.m. This time it started on Sunday, 4:45 a.m., and would not end until 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. And in place of my traditional Women in Politics Seminar course curriculum, I embarked on a trip that turned into a fast-paced presidential political roller coaster, which happened to be broadcast on live television.

You see, our professor, Dr. Rita Kirk, is also a CNN consultant. Like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, she can instantly turn select students into CNN research assistants. Such was the case for me, and two of my fellow classmates. Of course, excitement and adrenaline courses through the veins. Then the reality hits – I have a hell of a lot of work to do. What did I just get myself into?

At 4:45 a.m. we arrive on campus, load our bags, say hello and get in the car by 4:50 a.m., when the work begins. No kidding. Literally five minutes into the car ride to the airport. Dr. Kirk immediately gives us a run-down of what to do and how to do it. She says to have fun, but most importantly, don’t ha ha ha it up. It’s only live international television.

We get to the airport, and its work. One hand on the laptop, the other holding an egg and cheese sandwich, trying to find my mouth. The pressure is on to perform. Mistakes are not an option, unless you want to get kicked in the teeth.

The goal was to put together a focus group of 70 independent voters, to gather polling data in attempt to analyze real-time data based on different variables. Accuracy and timing was key. Our team had made over 300 calls, and had to be in control of every piece of data from every call, from every voter, and continually update the data as it evolved. Spreadsheets, totals, calls, demographics, cancellations, new adds, and all of the surprises in between – I’m bald and still managed to pull all of my hair out.

Every minute of down time (meaning not on the plane) we worked. We took the job seriously. Dr. Kirk was in fact Captain Kirk, leading the crew to complete the mission.

In New Hampshire, our final destination, we made our way to the newly constructed CNN studio, where our focus group was greeted by the very talented Randy Kay from Anderson Cooper 360. We got a feel for the layout of the set, did our meet and greets, and went back to work. Data. Data. Data.

Finally a few hours later we get to relax at the hotel, grab a bite to eat and wind down at around 11 p.m. We get ready for the big show tomorrow live on CNN from New Hampshire. Call time is at noon.

But we begin around 9 a.m. in the morning, breakfast before heading off to different campaign field offices – Clinton, Cruz, Trump, and last but not least, Sanders.

Me with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

Me with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

After a bit of fun and field research it’s back to the job, the big show, ensuring that Dr. Kirk has up-to-the-minute accurate information. Back to the studio for us, and it’s new spreadsheets, new data, phone calls, and up-to-the-minute reports all the way up to show time. And then…

People start showing up… one by one.

First there is only one, then two and three more. Then there are groups of five and 10. The line gets longer, and the situation is real. Dr. Kirk solely relies on her team to work independently because she has serious business to attend to.

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Voters check in and sign paper work, and we all make sure the process is organized to a T. My classmates and I are mind melding, communicating via text, email, phone, ESP, you name it and we were on it. Of the 70 expected voters, 60 showed up. Somehow we managed to feed them and guide them to their seats in the studio. Under the direction of Dr. Kirk, the process appeared like a walk in the park.

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The show goes on. We take notes, take pictures, sort out issues with various voters’ needs – always paying attention to Dr. Kirk’s cue. When she says move, you better move your rear. When she says be ready, you better be ready. At the same time, you better be doing all of those other things that you are supposed to be doing.

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We finally finish at around 1:30 a.m., clean up and head back to the hotel. It will be a 4:45 a.m. check-out to come back to Dallas. For me, there was no sleep. I was too high on adrenaline to come down that fast. I had the time of my life!

I found out that I thrive in this fast-paced, high-impact, high-demand, extremely volatile and high-pressured work environment. As crazy as it sounds, I am crazy. This translates to the fact that I love crazy, and I had a crazy, wonderful time. But I was very exhausted, and slept almost every minute of our travel back home to D-town. After a bit of rest, I prepare for my traditional 9:30 a.m. class…

Where I will get up at 5 a.m., shower, have a bite to eat, put on a decent pair of jeans, a not-so-wrinkled shirt, and some sneaks or boots, grab my books and notes, place them in my aging mahogany colored satchel and head off into the thick of 7 a.m. morning traffic to reach campus by 9 a.m.

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