“What is this?!”
County Commissioner Karen Keith exclaimed when she walked into our offices at 36 Degrees North and onto the set of our Facebook Live broadcast with Kevin Canfield and Dylan Goforth.
Across town, I was trying to explain to Tulsa businesswoman Sharon King Davis what we were about to be doing.
“We’re going to do a Facetime that will be broadcast live on Facebook? I didn’t know you could do that,” Davis said.
Frankly, I’m not sure we knew we could either.
In case you couldn’t tell, we were winging it.
Dylan had only experimented with Facebook Live for the first time last week. For those unfamiliar, Facebook has now made it possible for you to livestream video directly into its app, allowing live interaction with commenters as well. People can also watch later, when it’s convenient.
We were in awe of how many people watched our recent drive-through of construction progress on A Gathering Place and so Dylan thought: “How could we use this on election night?”
So we came up with a very loose plan.
The guys were going to broadcast on Facebook Live from our very high-tech offices at 36 Degrees North, and special guests would stop by throughout the night or call in as the election results rolled in.
Realizing the intense interest building in the mayor’s race, we tweaked the plan slightly on Tuesday afternoon: Ziva and I would divide and conquer the watch parties for incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett and his challenger G.T. Bynum (and any other race that got close). We could use our phones to Facetime interviews from the field, we decided.
What could go wrong?
Well, spotty wifi for one thing.
Lighting issues. Technical issues. Sound issues.
“Here’s what you need to know about the co-host here: Technical stuff is not his fortay,” Keith quipped during her appearance, when Kevin started scrolling the wrong way through results.
Luckily, Kevin was not in charge of technology. We had our interns, Kassie McClung and Lexy Burton, to help with that. And to take text messages from me about moving lamps into the conference room to help with lighting and enlarging font sizes on the screen.
But we loved all the comments and questions from those watching. It was great to see people joining us from Idaho, South Carolina, Texas — all wanting to know what would happen in Tulsa.
Sometimes, Kevin and Dylan got too chatty and didn’t give people numbers as quickly as they would have liked.
“This is like two old ladies chatting on a park bench!” one viewer commented. Well…
While the guys held down the fort at our offices in the Brady District, I was tweeting up a storm from G.T. Bynum’s watch party at Stokely Event Center.
— Cary Aspinwall (@caryaspinwall) June 28, 2016
People in the room grew progressively more excited as the poll numbers started to come in.
We were supposed to do a FaceTime from Stokely with the candidate himself, but I couldn’t find him in the crush of people. So I grabbed the always-friendly Sharon King Davis instead.
“You never know how campaigns are going to go,” she reminded us.
Over the previous week, Bynum’s supporters had seen the Tulsa World endorse Bartlett and run results of a poll their expert called a “dead heat,” estimating Bartlett would get 40 percent of the vote and Bynum about 37 percent, with undecideds possibly a factor. But Bynum ended up with almost 56 percent of vote to Bartlett’s 39 percent.
Susan Savage, one of several former Tulsa mayors who endorsed Bynum, waited nervously in a corner of the Stokely Event Center as the data came in.
When the numbers started to look favorable for her candidate, I asked her if any of Bynum’s supporters thought the results would end up that way.
“I did,” she said.
Savage said she thought voters were turned off by Bartlett’s attack-heavy strategy (he ran ads depicting Bynum as a DC-lobbyist and sent mailers out trying to tie Bynum to as many liberals as possible).
“It was an odd tactic to me,” she said. “This was a nonpartisan race. What I kept waiting for Dewey to talk about what himself.”
We sent our editor in chief to Bartlett’s watch party, where the tone was decidedly more staid.
Early in the election day, there were serious concerns about whether all eligible voters in city limits were being given the nonpartisan Tulsa mayor and council race ballots at their polls.
Bartlett’s team had voiced concerns about whether this amounted to “Republican voter suppression,” but as the night wore on, it became obvious those irregularities likely wouldn’t make a difference.
— Ziva Branstetter (@ZivaBranstetter) June 29, 2016
Dylan and Kevin kept asking me to get Bynum on camera if I could. But he was in demand at the moment (and I was running out of phone battery), so I grabbed councilors Blake Ewing and Karen Gilbert (and some chairs, because I would need an apple box to FaceTime with Ewing). They gave us a great interview with their own insight as councilors and longtime Tulsans.
And for you, Frontier fans, I scrunched in a ball on the floor with a pack of reporters and live-streamed Bynum’s victory speech via FaceTime. Due to spotty wifi and a few failed FaceTime attempts, we ended up going live by holding Kevin’s phone up to Dylan’s phone, to show you the feed as captured by my phone. It was a little bit of an Inception moment.
Thank you to those who hung in there with us for this little adventure. I got a special chuckle out of the punchline of Bynum’s historical anecdote he told that night, about a group of visionaries in Tulsa’s earliest days who wanted to build a controversial bridge:
“You said we couldn’t do it, but we did.”