Georgia Tech Student Reports on Elections for MTV

Young people across the nation are getting involved in the political process this election season, but one Georgia Tech student is getting a close look at the election process from press row.

Shelby Highsmith, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, is reporting for MTV's Chose or Lose '08 campaign, and the opportunity has given him a unique perspective covering the election as a member of the press.

The opportunity has presented some memorable moments for Highsmith, who says one of those moments came early in the campaign season.

"Super Tuesday, as long ago as it was, still stands out as the most exciting part of Choose or Lose '08 so far," said Highsmith. "The energy around Super Tuesday itself was really high for the whole nation, and MTV was trying something really groundbreaking for our coverage."

According to Highsmith, MTV partnered with an Internet startup called Flixwagon, a Web site paired with mobile phone software that enables some high-end camera-phones to broadcast live video to the Internet over the cellular connection. Twenty-three Street Teamers were sent these Nokia phones with the software installed and spent the whole day covering the election in their hometowns and states, and when MTV started broadcasting, the video feeds were immediately available on the MTV News and Choose or Lose Web sites.

After each broadcast, the producers in New York downloaded the archived footage and repackaged it into on-air news updates that played on MTV throughout the day.

"All over town, the people I talked to were really charged up about the election, from street corners to campaign parties, and the addition of being a mobile, one-man remote TV studio was just the icing on the cake," said Highsmith. "Little did we know Super Tuesday would fade so far into memory in this long election season!"

Highsmith believes that technology is changing journalism and no one is sure where the media industry will go next.

"I don't know the answer, but it's getting faster and more mobile in both acquisition and delivery," said Highsmith. "The cellphone software we used for MTV during our Super Tuesday coverage can make anyone at the scene of breaking news a reporter, and then that same content is being consumed on mobile handsets by young people who rely more and more heavily on the mobile Web. While there will always be a place for classically trained journalists to do in-depth research and reporting, I think the new field is in classifying, sorting, collating, and redistributing all of this user-generated content, as quickly as possible."

Highsmith says this journalism opportunity fit his long-term career plans even though he's a Ph. D. in mechanical engineering.

"After seven years of pure technical research, I have realized that more pure technical research is not the career path for me," said Highsmith. " I received a BA in philosophy in my dual-degree undergraduate program, and I am minoring in international affairs right now. I also participated in the Sam Nunn Security Studies pre-doctoral fellowship program here at Tech. So after I leave Georgia Tech, I hope to pursue a career in the policy sector, but still relating to engineering, science and technology."

Highsmith says that he wants the U.S. government to make informed decisions regarding investment in technology for the national benefit.

"Wherever I can find work explaining the pros and cons of technology to legislators and policy makers, I hope I can make a difference. I look at this 'citizen journalism' experience as training for doing less technical research and then framing a story in a concise, clear manner for the lay observer."