Campus welcomes campaign campers: CNN and C-SPAN engage students in politics

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Campus welcomes campaign campers: CNN and C-SPAN engage students in politics

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The 2016 Presidential Campaign has landed quite literally on SLU’s campus this week. Two buses, or so-called “campaign campers”, parked on the quad, sponsored by media outlets in anticipation of both the approaching Democratic debate and the broader, longstanding political race.

Parked just outside the West Pine entrance to Pius LIbrary on Tuesday from 11  a.m. to 5 p.m., the CNN/Facebook bus offered students the chance to record video of questions they had for candidates. The star spangled bus, a revamped Airstream trailer, continued to attract curious glances from students entering and exiting the library.

Upholstered and fitted with a flat screen TV broadcasting CNN programs, it boasted a wide awning that played pop music. The main feature was a booth where students could record their questions on camera.

Topher Gauk-Roger, a CNN producer, and Nick Santo, an affiliate working with CNN and Facebook, manned the camper throughout the day. Their goal was to get students to leave questions for this year’s candidates; some may be selected to air on CNN during the Democratic debate on Oct. 13. All videos were posted to CNN’s Facebook page.

“I think we caught a lot of people by surprise,” said Gauk-Roger. “It’s the first time [CNN has] done an initiative like this where we’ve teamed up with a social media company and actually toured the country to really incorporate the social media aspect … engage viewers like this and get people excited about the election.”

CNN’s campaign camper embarked on a four-week, 12-city tour beginning at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, site of last month’s Republican debate. After visiting SLU, the camper will move on to Iowa and Indiana, before making its final stop in Las Vegas for the Democratic debate.

“It seems like this election is going to be one where the millennial generation has a major impact,” said Gauk-Roger, “because … for the last election, many of them were just coming of age to vote, whereas now so many will be at an age where they can vote, and so I think a lot of them will more impact than they’ve ever had before. I think that’s something that everyone has to factor in, from the networks to the candidates.”

This initiative explicitly targets the youngest generation of Americans eligible to vote, who exhibit significant trends of weak voter turnout. It represents an intersection of old-school politics and relatively new social media. “I don’t want it to seem like an outdated concept,” said Gauk-Roger.

“I think in this world where you actually have to go out and physically write in your vote at a polling place or do it by mail, you can’t just tweet it or Instagram or Snapchat your vote. And so I think we need to find ways to incorporate what it is that young people are doing and active on and find ways to bring the election into that, to make that more relevant … for a new audience and a younger audience.”

As the afternoon wore on, the two men saw an increase in student traffic. “Everyone seemed excited to record questions,” said Gauk-Roger. “They were excited to get engaged and have the opportunity to have their say. It seems that everyone was a little nervous at making sure they said it in the best way possible.”

Santo attested to this as well: “Everyone definitely wanted to come off like intellectuals and that they were knowledgeable on the subject.”

They remarked that at past stops, students would hold casual debates among themselves. Here, Santo said that “there were definitely groups talking about what questions they would ask. We had a tandem group, two girls came in and did a question together and fed off each other.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, a C-SPAN bus parked in front of Griesedieck Hall from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. La’Shawna Saint-Preux, a marketing representative for the network, said that the day’s goal was to “spread awareness about C-SPAN and our partnership with Charter Communications. A lot of people don’t know all of the resources that C-SPAN offers. They might know that we cover the House, the Senate and Congress, but they don’t know that our video library is free for use, so we’re trying to encourage students to use the online resources for their homework, for their papers, as a way to stay informed.”

Whereas the CNN camper had focused on social media, C-SPAN’s promoted its vast public resources. It nonetheless has a digital presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “We’re on all these things that people are using today as a way to gain more information,” said Saint-Preux. “It’s become a very important way of getting your information, you know, people tend to go to social media before they go to the news nowadays.”

Like CNN’s camper, C-SPAN’s had a “Campaign 2016 kiosk” where students could learn about candidates’ biographies and what issues they support, as well as view past interviews.

While many young voters might get their news from Facebook and their friends, said Saint-Preux, “we want students to make their own informed decisions. Part of combatting that is to give them the knowledge to make that decision … Secondly, we want to make it fun, I think sometimes there may be stigma attached to politics, they might think it’s boring. We’re trying to show them that there can be some fun to it. So some of the interactive tools on our bus make it a little more fun.”

The day before, the C-SPAN bus had visited Triton College in River Grove, Illinois. There, many professors decided to assign homework based on the video library and other C-SPAN classroom resources.

“We’re trying to encourage people to go vote,” Commented Saint-Preux. “We don’t tell them who to vote for or how to vote. We’re just trying to get them the information.”