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Before the Smoke Clears, The Call of a New Pope

And now the wait begins. At 12:34pmET, the doors of the Sistine Chapel closed as 115 Cardinals began the process of choosing a new pope. Now, TV news anchors, analysts, producers and bookers are at the ready for the first signs of smoke.

The news networks produced special reports as Cardinals made their way to the Sistine Chapel for the conclave with live video provided by Vatican TV. NBC’s Lester Holt and ABC’s Diane Sawyer, both in Rome, anchored special reports for their networks beginning at 11:30am. CBS’s Scott Pelley anchored a special beginning at NoonET. Now all the anchors, including Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo from CNN, Chris Jansing from MSNBC, and Shepard Smith from Fox News will be seated and dialed into their respective control rooms awaiting the smoke signal: black smoke for no pope, white smoke for a new pope.

Having been on the other side of this process as Jansing’s producer at the conclave that elected Benedict XVI in 2005, I can tell you the next 24-48 hours will be one of great anticipation, and, in some cases, frustration; with no warning of when the smoke will fly and when it does, finding that what appears white smoke is really black. It can be one of the most exciting and memorable moments of live TV, for its history and rarity. It’s like election night, without exit polls or precinct-by-precinct data to tell you which way the wind is blowing. And it can also be fraught with too early or wholly incorrect reporting, made more challenging this time by the wide open field of the Papabili. When the smoke clears, we will have a new pope. Before then, don’t be surprised by some misinformation from an always plugged-in global media relying on a smoke signal for news.

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