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All In, On All Platforms, as CBS News Covers Midterms

The truck selling grilled cheese in front of the CBS Broadcast Center in New York was doing a brisk business as the sun went down on Election Day. It was a few hours before CBS News went live in prime, and beyond, and staffers made sure they had something to eat before an all-consuming night that would extend into morning.

Moments before helming the CBS Evening News, anchor Jeff Glor shed some light on his thinking. “I’m just trying to soak in as much as possible,” he said, “but also then make it digestible and concise (for viewers).”

CBS News had moved its Decision Desk, where races are declared, into a more central location in the studio. “We’re trying to be as transparent as possible with this process,” explained Glor. “A lot of people consider the calling process mysterious, and it shouldn’t be.”

The CBS This Morning crew, Norah O’Donnell (O'Donnell set up the grilled cheese truck for her colleagues), Gayle King, John Dickerson and Bianna Golodryga, led the prime coverage along with Glor. Anthony Salvanto, CBS News director of elections and surveys, manned the Decision Desk. Political contributor Bob Schieffer was also on hand to lend his considerable Election Day wisdom to the broadcast. He’s been there for a lot of them, but said the 2018 midterms were unlike any he’d witnessed. “I’ve never gone into one of these feeling so clueless about what could happen, what’s going to happen,” Schieffer said in the green room moments before the prime coverage. “We’ll see what happens here. We won’t know until it happens.”

Glor singled out Schieffer for his “penetrating analysis.”

“He can really break it down,” said Glor. “There’s so much floating out there, but you talk to Bob, what do you see, and he has a way of distilling it that’s important.”

Glor went live at 6:30 p.m., just as he would do at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. for other time zones before joining the Election Day team at 8.

Evening News executive producer Mosheh Oinounou called the shots in the control room. He stood in the center of the room, barking out directions. One could hear cries of “Trim the intro” and “We’re gonna call Vermont” from the producers. There was talk about Decision Desk logistics.

As Glor’s broadcast wound down seconds before 7 p.m., a voice yelled out, “Bingo!” Then it was on to the next Glor newscast.

Elsewhere in the massive CBS Broadcast Center, the CBSN team broke down key races. They went live at 5 p.m., with Elaine Quijano anchoring. It was four years ago, to the day, that the streaming news platform was born. Christy Tanner, exec VP and general manager, CBS News Digital, said CBSN has been a key element in connecting cord-cutters and cord-nevers with quality news. “They need news and there aren’t many credible, free sources of 24-hour news if you cut the cord,” she said. “The investment CBS made in CBSN is really, in some respects, a public service to those who are cutting the cord. But it’s also clearly where viewership trends are heading.”

She noted that the CBSN audience is one-third Democrat, one-third Republican, and one-third independent, and has stayed that way as the platform has grown. “It tells us we’re doing something right,” said Tanner.

CBS News talked up its plans to make election results available in “real time” on CBSN, Twitter, CBS News Radio and other platforms. But Chris Isham, Washington bureau chief and VP, said the coverage philosophy hasn’t changed much even as delivery has. “The basics are the same,” he said. “The basics are, making sure that the data is solid, making sure the analysis, the folks we have analyzing data, are on top of it and are as sharp as they possibly can be. Making sure communicating our calls when we get those goes seamlessly. The basics are really pretty consistent.”

Back in the green room, Schieffer is buzzing with excitement. A ton of work awaits, but to him, it’s hardly work. “I think it’s the most fun you can possibly have,” he said. “I’ve done 25 of them, and they’re just fun. I just love it.”

The CBS News team planned to stick around until the early morning hours Wednesday. If a reporter covers a Super Bowl, they can probably sleep late the next day. Not so for Election Day coverage. “We anticipate a late night,” said Tanner. “And past elections have showed us that the day after the election is just as important as the day of. Tomorrow is just as important as prime tonight.”