Hofstra students get firsthand crack at presidential primary reporting
A small group of Hofstra University students who work at the campus radio station, WRHU-FM, had the unique opportunity to travel to New Hampshire ahead of the January 23rd presidential primaries to report on candidate rallies and shadow professional journalists. The Long Island students participating were Joseph Pergola from Glen Cove, Peter Nicolino from Huntington Station, and Fatima Moien from Valley Stream.
As candidates announced rallies and town hall meetings, Mullen assigned students to cover them, create packages and then send them back to WRHU for airing. They worked out of the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Manchester where many of the national and visiting radio, TV, and cable networks also stayed. The students even had a space alongside other “pro” radio stations who were also in New Hampshire to cover the activities.
Pergola, a sophomore, got into journalism more broadly after focusing on sports. “At first I was pretty much exclusively a sports journalist. But recently I started getting into news, specifically participating in our evening news broadcast, Newsline. In my time participating with the night show, I’ve been able to anchor, I’ve been able to produce. When I got the opportunity to come to New Hampshire for this primary I was really, really wanting to jump on that chance and thankfully, I was able to do so.”
Moien, a graduate student in her second year of her Master’s in Journalism program, also covered the primary. “This time last year I entered as a trainee. So in a year’s time I’ve kind of worked my way up. I anchor the afternoon Newsline. our 30-minute rundown news show. I’ve been on air; I’ve also produced content for social media platforms. I also co-host a 30-minute, bi-weekly show called “Nomad hotel” where we talk about immigration on Long Island. So in a year’s time, I’ve been really able to grow and build my way up. I started off as a writer and editor, just working on scripts and rundowns, but now getting to travel and create audio content is what I do,” said Moien.
The students interviewed some of the candidates to find out their motivations for running in what is almost certainly already a two-person race. “We were able to speak to some lesser known candidates. Specifically I got to talk to the very notorious Vermin Supreme, who has been running for a couple of decades now as a kind of political commentary,” said Pergola. Members of the team also spoke to Paperboy Love Prince and Dean Phillips. Pergola was at a voting event with Nikki Haley but she was not taking questions from the press at that time.
Besides speaking to candidates, the
team made sure to interview voters at the polling places as well, to gauge the atmosphere going into the primary and understand their motivations and concerns. They were even able to visit a local college to engage with younger voters. “Our main pitch was to bring back some audio from young voters, our peers around the same age. It was really interesting to hear what issues they were most thinking about. I think the best part about going to New Hampshire was that we found this spectrum of thought. What I mean by that is we found students who were so on top of their politics, who were well informed, well spoken, that really dissected how important this was to them. And then on the flip side, we met so many students who just couldn’t care less,”
They also spoke with a political science professor about issues and perspectives, and how the hot button topics were affecting this year’s campaigns. “We spoke to her about women in politics and how women’s rights and issues played into the election race as a whole. We touched on Nikki Haley and Marianne Williamson. We also talked about the overturning of Roe v. Wade and what the whole abortion conversation will mean for political elections as we move forward,“ Pergola said.
They were able to speak with the local Party for Socialism and Liberation about their plan to write “ceasefire” in the candidate slot of the primary ballot, in support of such an action in the Hamas/Israel conflict. The idea of using this platform to bring attention to that cause resonated deeply with Moien. “They were speaking to us so frankly, about their efforts and calling for a ceasefire and having people write that in on the ballot… it was so interesting to hear how rallies are happening, demonstrations are happening, on all sides. While the whole country focuses on who won, there’s a big chunk of people that are pushing for their voice, whether that’s for Palestine or to free the hostages back to Israel. The whole sentiment of ceasefire was really important.”
Doualy Xaykaothao, a journalist with NPR and Hofstra’s professional-in-residence, is a mentor of sorts to the broadcast team. She traveled with the students to New Hampshire and provided guidance while they were crafting their stories. “My role is essentially to talk to students with their journalism with their reporting, with what ethically they’re doing, to get them to think about their journalistic standards, and how to approach these kinds of stories. How do you work in the field? What’s it like to be in the field? You know, what it’s like to be engaged and to get accreditation? It’s everything that a reporter is trying to figure out for the first time.”
The experiences these students have working at the station often shape their careers later in life, whether that means they go on to be journalists or take a different path. “What we try to do at Hofstra University is to help aspiring journalists understand how to do this work. We give them real opportunities, so that they can expose themselves to it and understand what it really takes to be a journalist. It is these opportunities that shed light on how this works. Some of the students truly end up deciding whether this is what they want to do or not. And many of them in past years have gone on to be top anchors, top journalists and presenters in different markets.” Xaykaothao said.
This is the fourth presidential election where Hofstra students have gotten to
see what primary coverage looks like up close. Several students who participated
in past years have gotten jobs at TV
and radio stations after graduation and credit this first-hand experience as giving them an advantage over other journalism and communication majors at different institutions.
The program is run by John T. Mullen, the station manager who partners with various Long Island sports teams and other local organizations to create student-centered learning opportunities that help to build participants’ resumes. Both Mullen and Xaykaothao traveled with the students.
Moien and Pergola both expressed gratitude for the opportunity the program presented, and for the collaborative effort of their mentors and team members. Moien said, “Hofstra has been an amazing place for me. I was featured on ABC’s The View, I got awarded a national journalism award live on national television, along with going to Cuba, along with covering the primaries, along with being on Radio, TV, in print. (I’m so grateful to) this school, this program, for the two years that I’ve been here. I’m leaving in May. Oh my gosh, I’m going to have such a hard time letting go.”
—With additional information from Hofstra University