How NBC News Covers Debates

Carrie Budoff Brown, senior vice president of politics at NBC News, oversees “Meet the Press” and coverage of campaign events like a presidential debate. NBCU Academy sat down with her to discuss how NBC covered the first 2023 Republican presidential debate on Aug. 23 and how it is preparing for the next one. Watch the video above and read Brown’s comments below to learn how NBC covers debates.

NBC’s editorial approach

I’m working with TV and digital as one team. From start to finish, we’re doing all of our planning meetings together. I bring together correspondents every week to talk about what’s going on in their beats. It’s both thinking editorially — how are we going to cover the ground that we need on those days, logistically — and we want to ensure that we’re providing a robust, urgent set of stories and blog posts, to keep people engaged.  

The impact of debates

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Elections are the end result of many factors, of which debates are one. What happens on a debate stage at night has a lot of complexity: How are the candidates who had the big moment, who “won the night,” converting that on the ground in the key places that matter and getting more votes? Understand where the race is going.  

After the last debate, Vivek Ramaswamy came out as a person most talked about. Politics is about capitalizing on those moments through organization, fundraising and being smart about where you put the candidate.  

The importance of voter reactions

Stay in contact with your campaign sources and other voters that you’ve talked to. One of the things I loved most about our debate liveblog the last time was our two campaign embeds, Emma Barnett in New Hampshire and Alex Tabet in Iowa, gathered focus groups of younger voters. And then Shaq Brewster was in the Upper Midwest with a family he met last year.  

Be a reporter at these moments. We need to understand how this is landing with actual voters, not me sitting in an office directing coverage. I want to know what the voters are thinking, what the campaigns are thinking and how this all plays out.  

But you also don’t really know the effect for days or weeks afterwards. That’s a level of humility that journalists have, to never be so sure of themselves. You recognize that you don’t know everything. 

What successful political coverage looks like

What keeps me up at night, as I think about coverage? That I’m going to miss something big that’s happening that explains what ends up happening on Election Day. I tend to say that coverage will be a success if I’m not surprised on Election Day. If I’m surprised on Election Day, then we all have failed. 

Learn more about covering politics

📈 How to Read Political Polls

📊 How Can Data and Polls Inform Your Reporting?