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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Journalism students cover the New Hampshire Primary

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- February, 11, 2004 -- While many of us were watching it on TV, listening to it on the radio, or reading about it in the newspapers, it wasnít politics as usual for 18 URI journalism students who trudged through snow and dodged camera lenses to cover the presidential primary in New Hampshire.

Two of the students, Christopher Keegan and Ed Owens, intent on interviewing Gen. Wesley Clark followed him to Dixville Notch, N.H. where all of the townís 26 registered voters cast their ballots at midnight. Although they lost some sleep, the enterprising URI students got their interview.

Keegan and Owens are two of 14 students enrolled in Journalism Professor Linda Lotridge Levinís "The Media and Presidential Primaries" class that tracts this yearís primaries.

Levinís class met in December so that the students could hit the political ground running when this semester began. The College of Arts and Sciences Richard Beaupre Hope and Heritage Fund funded the trip to New Hampshire.

Pairs of students were assigned to follow one of the candidates. Jennifer DeHuff and Molly Entin, shadowed Joe Lieberman throughout southern New Hampshire until they got a fairly long exclusive interview with the senator in a bar where he was meeting voters.

Some of the studentsí stories appeared in the student newspaper The Good 5 Ę Cigar. Another story appears on the Journalism Departmentís web site, and others were published in the studentsí hometown newspapers.

This was the fifth class that Levin has brought to the Granite State primary in 16 years. "After all these years," says the veteran primary-goer with deadpan humor, "I can tell you which hotel Dan Rather always stays in."

"The primaries serve as great photo ops and are primarily intended for national television. More than one of my students got clunked on the head by a camera while attending one of the rallies," the professor said, noting that technology has a much bigger role today. "Reporters can race around town looking for an interview, while a candidate can sit in his hotel room being interviewed on such national shows as Larry King Live."

While the studentsí cell phones came in handy, their lap top computers proved nearly worthless since Internet connections were rare and inconsistent.

Yet going to the primary is important for students. "You canít reach this kind of story in a class," says Levin. "Getting students out the door and onto the streets to pursue the news is the best way for them to see and feel what itís like to be a working journalist."

"It was the best thing Iíve done since Iíve come to URI," says URI student Ryan Sloane, news director of radio station WRIU (90.3 FM), who led the successful effort to secure some new equipment so that the radio station could broadcast live for two hours from New Hampshire after the polls closed.

Joining Sloane in the broadcast were URI students Nick Cattles, Jackie Palumbo, and Bryan Monaghan who also work at the non-commercial radio station. All four got a chance to meet Joe Lieberman when he came to their breakfast table at Pappyís Diner in Manchester. The quartet also saw Sen. John Edwards while stumping at a bowling alley in Merrimack. Cattles landed a few minutes with John Kerry when he asked the primary frontrunner a question about helping students with rising tuition.

While the WRIU crew made it into the room where Kerry gave his victory speech, the station couldnít broadcast it. Although Sloane had reserved a hotel room six months before the primary, he wasnít aware that he had to reserve a broadcast connection. Despite the disappointment, Sloane was happy.

"This was my grand finale," says the senior who hopes one day to become a television producer.