NBC News SVP Rashida Jones Explains How Covid-19 Has Influenced Her Election Night Coverage

By A.J. Katz 

On Election Day 2016, TVNewser ran around Manhattan, stopping by TV news studios to check out what was happening behind the scenes in the lead-up to prime-time coverage.

Unfortunately due to Covid-19, we aren’t able to stop by studios next Tuesday to check out what’s happening on set, in the control room, and speak with talent and producers about what they’re expecting from the evening’s festivities.

So, we’re trying something different this year—a Q&A with the executive in charge of his/her network’s election night coverage to better understand what to expect from them, and how the pandemic is influencing how this year’s presidential election is being produced.


One executive we caught up with was NBC News and MSNBC senior vice president Rashida Jones, who happens to be the executive in charge of NBC’s election night 2020 coverage.

While the network isn’t able to share the number of staffers who will be working in the building on election night 2020 compared with how many were in the building on election night 2016, Jones was able to tell us a good deal about what the network will deliver to the masses on Nov. 3.

TVNewser: What can we expect from NBC News election night coverage that we didn’t see in 2016?

Jones: You can expect to see a LOT more correspondents, nearly 40, in communities across the country. About a year ago, we dedicated coverage to five bellwether counties in our County to County initiative. We’ve been tracking trends and voters in those five locations and election night will give us an opportunity to culminate their sentiment after a year’s worth of coverage. Data will play a bigger role in this year’s coverage—both on air and online. We will offer more information on the screens to an audience eager for more transparency and real-time updates. Viewers will see this in the form of on-air graphics and a very sophisticated display on our digital platforms. Also, very different from last cycle, we will generate more unique streams of programming than any prior Election Day—with simultaneous programming on NBC, MSNBC, NBC News Now and  Peacock.

Additionally, our Vote Watch team has expanded tremendously since 2016. We now have a team of more than 24 correspondents and investigative reporters focused on social media misinformation and disinformation, voting machines and technology, voting procedures, etc. Voting security has been one of the most prominent and critical storylines of this election and no one is better equipped to cover all of its angles and complexities than us.

To what extent has Covid changed how you’re covering the big night?

We have had to reimagine how to collaborate remotely and securely for planning in the weeks ahead of Election Day as about 90% of our workforce remains remote. And on election night, we will staff our teams with far fewer people than traditionally, without compromising the quality and accuracy of our work. Our teams have and will continue to follow all CDC guidelines—whether in the studio, control room or in the field.

How have you determined what you want to do in person versus remote?

Deciding what we do in person versus remote is based primarily on necessity. We want to do everything in our power to keep our colleagues safe, as that has been and will continue to be our top priority. To that end, there will be minimal in-person staffing on air and behind the scenes to support our continuous live programming.

This year’s election may not be decided on Nov. 3, or even Nov. 4. Do you have coverage plans set if this goes on for longer than usual, and if so, what are they?

We are prepared for all scenarios, including the possibility that the election may not be decided on election night, as there is no way to be certain at this stage how any of this will play out. We plan to stay on the air as long as we need to. We have dozens of team members standing by around the clock should we need to stay on the air on multiple networks.