#RNC2020: Day in the life of a reporter

Lisa Lerer, New York Times

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 Lisa Lerer (she/her).

What I do: Reporter and newsletter writer, The New York Times

When I’m not on the road: Based in New York, NY

Where to follow me: On Twitter at @llerer

Thursday, August 27, 2020

12am: There’s one thing that hasn’t changed during these very unusual political conventions: The day never seems to end. Tonight, I suppose, is no exception.

The big speech on Wednesday night was by Vice President Mike Pence so tomorrow’s newsletter will be centered around his remarks, which I will argue amount to the first comprehensive argument for re-electing President Trump over the course of the week. At this point in the night, I have a decent sense of what I want to convey to the readers. Now, I just have write it.

Vice President Mike Pence, President Trump and their wives at the RNC. PC: Doug Mills/The New York Times

1:30 am: My heroic editor wraps up. The newsletter will land in inboxes around 7am. I get into bed, scan the news on my phone to see what everyone else made of the evening. One last email check and then — thankfully — some sleep.

7 am: I wake up to the sounds of my kids running through the house. My husband is trying to wrangle them. So are my parents. We relocated to their house for the week knowing that the combination of a Zoom convention and coronavirus-related camp cancellations would be rough.

Forget about my editors or all the amazing people we keep hearing from at the conventions, my parents are the real heroes of my life this week.

A quick email, Twitter, news check and then coffee. Obviously.

9 am: I take my kid and my dog for a walk to try and burn off some energy. (Theirs and mine.) I really miss going places, including the office, so I try to exercise most days just to break up the WFH lifestyle. I can already tell that a real workout probably isn’t going happen today. There’s too much to do with Trump on the schedule for tonight.

10:30 am: I sit down to do some prep work for this evening. Generally, during convention weeks I’ve been hearing from my editors around noon. I like to already have a sense of what I’m planning when we speak. Right now, I’m thinking of focusing on how similar Trump’s message is today as it was in 2016, even as the country has changed dramatically because of the virus.

I want to rewatch Trump’s speech from four years ago so I can compare his remarks tonight with four years ago.

Journalism should be a team sport. It’s just harder to do that remotely.

I also check in with a few sources to get a sense of what they’re looking for tonight.

In a normal year, I’d be at the convention site, running into sources and colleagues. Great ideas and intel can flow from those happenstance conversations. Everyone being at home definitely makes the conventions harder to cover.

12 pm: One of my kids demands grilled cheese. The other requests mac and cheese. Obviously, we can’t all eat the same thing because that would be far too easy. I make lunch with grandma’s help. (TGFG — thank god for grandparents.) More email, Twitter. Also, some school forms for the kids.

1 pm: Nap time for one kid, while grandma starts the other on a puzzle. Work time for me. An editor asks me to write up a short “what to watch guide” for readers. Then, I finally watch that 2016 speech. I’m tasked with hosting tonight’s live chat on the website so I also talk to another editor about what we should prepare in advance for the chat.

2:15 pm: Kid is up. I need more coffee.

2:30 pm: Back to work. I’m assigned a piece for the weekend, so I chat with my colleague about our plans and make a few phone calls. My parents take the kids out for ice cream (TGFG).

I also pull up the NYT coverage of Trump’s speech four years ago. I generally try to pre-write as much as possible for the newsletter so I’m not caught totally flatfooted at midnight when the speeches end. Often, my plans get torn up based on what happens over the course of the evening. But having some words written makes me feel a little more prepared.

New York Times 2016 RNC Coverage

6:30 pm: Dinner. TGFG, who cooked.

7:30 pm: It’s time to start engaging with tonight’s chat. I pre-write a couple posts. Then quickly read my older kid a chapter of her book. My husband wraps up the bedtime routine and manages the many, many requests for water, blankets and stuffed animals as I fire up CSPAN for tonight’s big event.

8:15 pm: Time to start chatting. So, so much chatting.

While I’m chatting, I’m also checking Twitter and email throughout the night. And I’m discussing plans for the newsletter with my colleague, who is writing with me during the convention weeks.

11:45pm: With the fireworks (both literal and political) over, the chat largely devolves into commentary about President Trump’s musical selection. I move to wrap it up by asking for everyone’s final thoughts.

Then, I turn to the newsletter. My original premise holds but needs some tweaking. After a quick check-in with my editor and colleague, I start pulling quotes and rewriting.

12:30am: File to my editor. The 2020 conventions are almost over, at least for me. As I wait for edits, I scan Twitter and the news to make sure I’m not missing anything big.

1:30am: Lights out! Finally.

It’s been a long two weeks. My last thought before closing my eyes — man, I hope the kids sleep in.



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