Sunday, February 23

Students, reporter, congressman acknowledge political potential of social media

MSNBC reporter Savannah Sellers visited UCLA Monday to appeal to college-aged voters as part of a tour of swing district universities. (Megana Sekar/Daily Bruin senior staff)

This post was updated Oct. 31 at 8:11 p.m.

An NBC News reporter said that Snapchat and other social media platforms will play a big role in political outreach during this year’s midterm elections at an event on campus Monday.

Reporter Savannah Sellers held a discussion with U.S. Representative Ted Lieu and students in the Bruins Vote Coalition, a student organization that holds voter registration drives and “turnout tuesdays” every week. Sellers covered the 2018 midterm elections, especially swing races in Southern California.

As a part of Sellers’ show, “Stay Tuned”, the MSNBC team is visiting college campuses to gauge reactions from students about voter registration and turnout and the issues that drive them to the polls. “Stay Tuned” has played on Snapchat’s discover page twice a day for the past year and has gained over nine million subscribers. “Stay Tuned” has already filmed episodes at universities in West Virginia and Austin, Texas, and will travel next to Miami, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia.

Sellers’ roundtable discussion covered the battleground races in Orange County, for which Lieu has been helping to campaign and raise awareness. Lieu has been using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to encourage voting in the midterm elections, while Sellers has focused on Snapchat’s platform.

Lieu and Celina Avalos, a Bruins Vote Coalition member and a fourth-year political science student, discussed strategies and methods of engaging college students. Avalos said the Bruins Vote Coalition will work with organizations such as NBC and MTV to promote civic engagement. They are also participating in a ballot bowl competition against other universities, such as USC.

Sellers and Lieu, who is the Assistant Whip for the Democratic Caucus, agreed young voters could make the difference for Democrats running in swing districts.

They also said they realized the importance of California in the election. Out of the 23 seats needed to flip the house, eight races are located in California, according to the Democratic Congressional Committee.

Sellers said she thinks that spikes in voter registration after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and Taylor Swift’s first political Instagram post announcing her endorsement of Tennessee Democratic candidates are significant, but only time will tell if it results in increased turnout.

Sellers said she thinks the show has become successful because her team doesn’t pander to its Generation Z audience, but rather is genuine in its approach to covering both breaking news and long-term stories.

“We’re going for being relatable and honest. I haven’t always been an on-screen reporter, so I don’t have a different TV voice,” Sellers said. “I use my hands and I talk the same as I do right now.”

Sellers asked passersby whether they felt connected to decisions being made in Washington and to narrow down on one issue they felt was most important.

Bella Barkett, a second-year human biology and society student, said she thinks the questions Sellers asked made her think about the issues she cares about, such as the refugee crisis and ongoing civil war in Syria.

Sellers added that NBC has adapted to the more personal way Generation Z wants to receive information.

“Students go on Snapchat to listen to their friends talk to them,” she said. “They want it to be a conversation.”

Sellers added her path to becoming a reporter was nontraditional and advised students to take risks and remember there are multiple paths into the media industry. She added that a show entirely produced for Snapchat was a risk in itself because the company’s stock and membership can fluctuate.

“The landscape of (media) is constantly changing,” she said. “What I know from my experiences and people I’ve talked to is that there isn’t one way to reach your goals.”

Senior Staff

Sekar is a senior staff reporter for the national news and higher education beat. She was previously the 2018-2019 assistant news editor for the national and higher education beat and a news contributor before that. Sekar is a third-year political science and economics student and enjoys dogs, dancing, and dessert.


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