Saturday, February 13, 2010

Realizing the Democratic Process

Somewhere roughly around 525,600 minutes, One year ago, I had a wonderful idea. One that started with me sitting on a park bench somewhere at the University of Mississippi. It was a cold day as most Februarys are but it was also sunny.

I was reading the front page of our student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian (DM), to see where the editor-in-chief at the time had written an expose on the candidates running for the UM student government, the Associated Student Body. By the end of the article, knew what needed to be done.

From that article in the DM last year, I set out to accomplish two things; one was to create an outlet for students to truely feel involved and comprehend an important part of the democratic process; therefore, truely feeling confident in what candidate they voted for, and the other was to help develop a better, more open dialogue between student politics and journalism. Last Wednesday night, the first open, public policy style ASB Presidential Debates sponsored by the UM chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists took place at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

After a year, that aspiration was made possible. But no great achievement is done alone. Thankfully, the Director of Communications for ASB, Cortez Moss, who I proposed this project to is an old friend of mine from band and the opportunity never could have happened if not for his faith in what I could do. From there I worked with his assistant and now my close friend, Jajuan McNeil, to secure that this project would be one both organizations could be proud to be associated with. On top of that I had a wonderful officer team behind me every step of the way. And my adviser, Debora Wenger, never stopped suporting and encouraging me along the way. To all of these people, I am deeply greatful.

The debate concept started with a proposal that included a plan to create a debate reminicnent to the U.S. Presidential Debate that took place at the university in 2008. The debate would feature both the ASB presidential and vice presidential candidates. It also included a pre-event called "Campaign Alley," where all other candidates that were not involved in the debate could interact one-on-one with constituents.

From the moment of that proposal's approval, the real work had begun. Over the course of this event, I have acted as editor for press releases and social media use, while also designing posters, invitations, and the debate's official logo. I have organized and spoken at radio promotions, pushed for constant contact with the student media, and personally researched and developed both the debate's Conduct and Format Guidelines as well as the entire scripting and programming for the debate night. Even during the debate, Jajuan and I served as the timekeepers for the evening.

On top of that, within 36 hours until the event, a debate hall overflow contingency plan was put into place after a sudden outpouring of student interest in the debate signaled that the 225 seat auditorium would possibly surpass capacity. And despite constantly open communication on SPJ's part, the edition of the DM that day still managed to misprint that the debate would start an hour later than scheduled.

By 12 p.m. that day, I sent a message clarifying the DM's mistake was sent to the entire facebook event guest list as well as an email to the entire student and faculty population at Ole Miss with the help of ASB. The two scenarios combined was the first true crisis management mode I had ever encountered. It was exhilerating, and all problems were dealt with in a timely fashion.

For the Conduct and Format Guidelines, I researched all past U.S. debates, with special focus on the one held at UM as an omage, to develop the ASB debate structure. All of the candidates did well in the debate and Campaign Alley went incredibly well.

Our student moderator, Elizabeth Googe, who has an extensive background in politics based journalism, did an outstanding job. Never once did she stutter, crack her voice or show any sign of hesitance in what she did. The whole evening was almost close to perfect. Hopefully now the students will feel better informed in making a decision in who they want their next student leaders to be.

Below you can read through the articles the Daily Mississippian ran on the debate and a link where you can watch the recording of the live video stream used for the overflow contingency. For now, it's on to the next great project!

Additional Resources:
"ASB candidates prepare for first public debate"
"ASB candidates seek better communication"
Watch the Debate via MCast