|The Last Word|
|Debate Watch—Two Students Invited to Blog For the New York Times
|Just one week before the first presidential debate, the Colorado School of Mines Oredigger newspaper received a call from the Politics Desk at the New York Times. The vague phone message left by a veteran editor enticed us to return the call. The Times was looking to engage twenty college newspaper editors from around the country in a real-time, online blog during the first presidential debate. Stunned, we inquired as to why the Times was interested in the insights of The Oredigger.
“We’re looking for expertise on energy and environment,” said the Times editor, and to provide this, we spent the next few days looking into campus research efforts and briefing ourselves on the candidates’ energy and environmental policies.
The actual blogging process was pretty hectic—we sent our posts to a single Times editor via instant message, and she was responsible for uploading them to the blog. Unfortunately, this method did not allow the different college editors to converse with each other, and we were essentially limited to commenting on the debate alone. It did, however, force us to consider more carefully what the candidates were saying.
We had a lot of fun with our unique perspective as the only engineering students asked to participate, and chose to focus almost entirely on energy and the environment. When we observed during the final debate that much of the job creation both candidates were calling for would be in the science and engineering fields, and that this could be seen in the “talent crunch” that allowed for the huge placement rates of Mines grads and generous starting salaries, the Times editor in charge of uploading told us that we made her feel “awfully stupid for studying political communication.”
Other issues we addressed included energy independence and higher education (focusing especially on science and engineering). A major advantage of having the opportunity to comment on both the first and the last presidential debates was seeing some questions from the first debate answered in the last. For example, in the first debate we asked, “Our master’s program in nuclear engineering is preparing students to hit the ground running once new nuclear programs are approved by the government; why haven’t the candidates talked about this carbon-free energy source?”; in the last debate, nuclear energy came up. We were fortunate enough to have two physics majors in the room when McCain argued for the establishment of 45 nuclear plants, up and running in 8-10 years. They both pointed out that the timeline for a nuclear plant is 5 years longer, under current regulations, and that “nuclear power wouldn’t even make us energy independent—the U.S. accounts for only 4 percent of the world’s uranium production.”
The conclusion of the first debate left us with the feeling that a monsoon had just passed through; the entire blog session took about three hours and carried the intensity of a physical chemistry final. After we had learned the process, the remaining debates were much less stressful. More importantly, familiarity with the
system provided us with an opportunity to explore both energy and environmental policy in greater depth.
One reader commented that our dialogue was among the “wisest and most succinct” she’d ever heard. In retrospect, we are quite pleased by how our worldviews were received, especially given that we were the only students in the “room” not majoring in the liberal arts. It was a unique opportunity to bring the engineering approach taught at Mines to a national stage.
Read the entire blog here.
Last Word is a place for alumni and other members of the Mines community to share their opinions and stories. Its content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Colorado School of Mines or the alumni association. We have made an attempt to fact check, but readers are advised to independently confirm the veracity of claims made in this and other Last Word articles.