1:57 p.m., Nov. 23, 2015--The panel started with a request not typically heard from most moderators: “I want to see cell phones in your hands. I want to see the blue light on your face.”
The words, though, were fitting for the 100-plus University of Delaware alumni, friends and students gathered on Nov. 12 at the NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss the “New World of Digital Politics.”
Moderated by UD’s Ralph Begleiter, founding director of the Center for Political Communication (CPC), the panel included UD alumnus and NPR supervising political editor Domenico Montanaro; GOP digital strategist Brian Donahue; UD associate professor Lindsay Hoffman; and NPR reporter Sam Sanders.
They spoke of how much has changed in such a short political period (“I covered the 2008 Clinton/Obama debates with a Blackberry,” said Montanaro), of the disruptive power of social media and of the lingering effect of #BlackLivesMatter (“The same energy and force of that movement will impact next year’s election,” Sanders predicted).
They discussed the “echo media” effect of Facebook, and how people can “pick and choose their truths.” They talked about swing voters and where they fall in the digital age (“Right now, in the primary stage, the conversations are played very heavily to the bases,” said Donahue).
And they spoke of “vicarious participation” through social media, the feeling of contributing to a larger conversation in the digital age (“Twitter gives ordinary citizens very powerful tools,” said Hoffman).
A novel approach to networking
The event was part of the popular Conversations and Connections series, an alumni networking event hosted by the offices of Development and Alumni Relations and Career Services, and, in this instance, the Center for Political Communication (CPC).
Conversations and Connections draws together current students, alumni and friends all interested in broad, far-ranging topics in which UD has a strong foothold. Past events have focused on industries such as fashion, finance and technology.
In addition to the panel discussion on digital politics, members of the Delaware Diamonds Society giving society and donors to the CPC and College of Arts and Sciences had the rare chance to tour NPR’s headquarters earlier in the evening, walking through the newsroom, sitting in production studios and even meeting on-air personalities Audie Cornish, one of NPR’s All Things Considered anchors, and Mara Liasson, NPR’s senior political correspondent.
“We have to operate on all platforms, reach people in every possible way they consume news,” said Liasson, who fielded questions about the changing media landscape and provided a run-down of her day, which ranged from blog posts to interviews to the write-through of the following day’s Morning Edition.
All attendees raved about the evening and presentations.
“By far one of the most interesting alumni events I’ve been to,” said Joseph Amann, who has attended (and served as a panelist for) previous Conversations and Connections events in New York City. “[The NPR building] is even cooler than you’d imagine it to be.”
The bright glow of hundreds of UD photos illuminated the lobby from a two-story-high electronic mosaic wall, flashing images of prominent alumni, national speakers and eminent faculty that have helped cement UD’s status as the “epicenter of politics.”
A Times Square-style electronic “ticker” also zipped overhead touting the “leading the way” motto of the College of Arts and Sciences and a New York Times columnist’s designation of UD as a “maker of political kings.”
Students benefited from the networking event as well, chatting up the speakers and alumni before and after the event.
Freshman political science and international major Tamar Epps sought advice from NPR reporter Sam Sanders on the importance of black voices in the media.
“It’s fascinating to be here,” she said after their discussion. “I’m so glad we have events like this, where we can meet and learn from leaders in the field. It’s an incredible opportunity.”
A mentor for many
Making the event so special for many attendees and panelists was Begleiter.
His name was mentioned repeatedly — by alums who spoke fondly and passionately of his class, by guests grateful for his work in securing the venue and organizing the speakers and by Montanaro, who guides political coverage across all platforms for NPR.
“Ralph is one of the first reasons I chose this path,” he said of his former professor, retelling the story of covering the Gore/Bradley debate as a class project in collaboration with CNN. At the time, the budding journalist was a student and writer for the sports desk of the Review.
“Ralph said to me, ‘You know, this is a lot better than the sports stuff you do,’” he joked. “And the rest is history.”
Begleiter joined the University in 1999, bringing more than 30 years of broadcast journalism experience to his award-winning instruction in communication, journalism and political science. He has served as founding director of the CPC since 2010 and will retire from the University at the end of 2015.
About the Office of Development and Alumni Relations
The Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) engages donors, alumni, friends, parents, faculty, staff and students in a lifelong relationship and fosters a tradition of philanthropy to strengthen the University of Delaware’s legacy as one of the great public institutions of higher education in America.
For more information about DAR, visit the website or call 302-831-2341.
Photos by Evan Krape