#Debates2020: Day in the life of a political reporter
Sabrina Siddiqui, The Wall Street Journal
Welcome to our #IWMF2020 Day in the Life series! Through Election Day, we’ll be taking you behind the scenes with women journos on the campaign trail. Virtual and in-person, good days and tough ones, we’ll show you what it’s like to cover #Election2020.
Hi, I’m Sabrina Siddiqui (she/her).
What I do: National Politics Reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Political Analyst at CNN
When I’m not on the road: Based in Washington, D.C.
Where to follow me: On Twitter and Instagram at @sabrinasiddiqui
Thursday, October 22, 2020
7am ET: Am I dreaming or is my phone ringing? Yep, it’s definitely my phone. I didn’t think I had anything first thing today, since it’s going to be a late night with the final presidential debate, but a producer from CNN has an impromptu request for me to join one of the morning shows. Rise and shine!
I don’t have to be on for a couple of hours, so I check emails in bed for a while and then get up to make some tea (never been a coffee person). I switch on CNN to make sure I haven’t missed any overnight breaking news that may come up during our segment.
Our team at The Wall Street Journal has a debate plan in motion, but I don’t have any pressing deadlines, so I use this rare downtime to work on two thematic stories I’ve been trying to wrap up for a while. I also realize I better start doing my makeup and hair for this TV hit, since we’re all our own stylists now that everything is remote.
9:45 a.m ET: I set up my laptop to join CNN Newsroom and check in with the producers. We go live at the top of the 10 a.m. hour and have a 7–8 minute segment to preview the debate in Nashville.
Mid-morning: Back to those two stories, which will have been published by the time you read this. One is about Joe Biden trying to expand the battleground map and the other examines how President Trump is placing less emphasis on immigration this election cycle.
They rank among stories that, like many reporters, I’ve had on my to-do list but haven’t gotten around to due to competing priorities.
I realize the election is less than two weeks away, which means there’s no more “I’ll get to it later.”
At this point, all enterprise stories need to be done ASAP. I continue making calls and plugging away at these drafts.
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Mid-day: I should probably eat something. The nice thing about working from home is that my husband and I are able to have lunch together on most days. Constantly being at home has also meant we can cook a lot more, so there’s no shortage of leftovers.
I get back to work. I call former Obama and Clinton campaign advisers to see if they think Biden should focus on a handful of key swing states or try to expand the map. After all, they’ve been there — and came out with different results. I also talk to a couple of Republican strategists and pollsters to get their take on immigration not being as central to President Trump’s campaign as it was in 2016 and 2018.
I am also checking Twitter and Instagram, probably more than I should be.
5 p.m.: At this point I’ve reached a good stopping point and there’s still four hours until the debate, so I could use a break.
Have I really not been outside today?
It’s somehow 80 degrees in late October, so I wait for my husband to wrap up his work and we go for a brief walk around the neighborhood.
Early evening: I haven’t been to a gym since March, but I’ve tried to maintain regular at-home workouts. I squeeze in a 45-minute session while my husband, who is a saint, takes the lead on making dinner.
9 p.m.: Here we go… the debate begins and I’m in front of the TV reminiscing about the days when campaign travel was a thing. I did go to the first debate in Cleveland, because I was the Biden pool reporter that day, but it goes without saying that travel has been limited during the pandemic.
I’m helping with out with our main story and contributing to our debate night live blog. That entails writing short blog posts on key moments or issues with the rest of our team, and then separately grabbing quotes and drawing up publishable grafs for the news story.
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Luckily after a gazillion debates, by now I know how to watch and write at the same time.
But you have to wonder what it was like in a bygone era when reporters wrote a single story at the conclusion of the debate for print the next morning. Sounds so quaint.
The debate goes a little past its scheduled conclusion of 10:30 p.m. I write a final blog post wrapping up closing thoughts.
11:15 p.m.: I join a Biden campaign call for reporters where aides recap the night’s events. I feed some lines from the call to my colleagues for any relevant stories and make sure there’s else needed on my end.
12 a.m.: I am now completely wired, but it’s been a long day. I fight the voice inside my head that tells me to check Twitter. Within minutes, I am on Twitter wondering who I was kidding. Eventually, I fall asleep. Twelve. More. Days.