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One-stop shop mindset key for using technology in election coverage

October 12, 2010

By Emily Steele
Eastern Illinois University

When preparing for Election Day editors should set up shop; a one-stop shop for election information that is.

Ryan Reynolds, the breaking news editor from the Evansville Courier & Press in Indiana said a newspaper should use its online presence as a way to curate election information.

In the session “Technology and election night,” Reynolds and Courier & Press Editor Mizell Stewart III outlined curation methods and other techniques for effectively using technology when covering elections. The session was part of the “Election Night and Beyond” workshop presented by the Mid-America Press Institute in St. Louis, Oct. 9-10.

“One of the things that is really cool about the advances in technology and the ability to put information out there on the Internet is that it has really changed how we distribute information on election night,” Stewart said.

Reynolds suggested newspapers can be more relevant on the local, state and national level by providing both content produced by reporters and basic election information such as poll locations and donations to candidates.

He added that a newspaper should create the one-stop mindset with its readers long before November 2, with pre-election coverage and teasers to upcoming information.

One natural tool for curating information is the social networking site Twitter. Even if a paper has a Twitter account, Reynolds encouraged editors to create a separate account for elections use only and then applying local hashtags. Multiple reporters can access the account at once for continuous election day results and photos by using a program like TweetDeck.

Reynolds said Facebook allows newspapers to see what a variety of people are saying and get coverage ideas before elections.

“You get a nice range on Facebook because everyone knows how to use it,” Reynolds said.

Facebook can be used for conversations with readers long before election day by holding live chats with politicians or posting questions like “If I could ask a politician any question this election, I would ask them…”.

Stewart suggested getting an immediate response on election day by posing questions such as “Have you had any problems at the polling sites?” and encouraging readers to post their own election day photos and stories.

If staff are monitoring the page throughout the day, they can point people in the right direction by answering questions.

“It’s not your information necessarily, but you’re curating for people,” Reynolds said.

For election results, Reynolds suggested having reporters do short (less than a minute long) question and answer videos that can be e-mailed quickly and posted soon after the results go out.

When creating online content, Reynolds said he gets many of his ideas from other websites, and instead of spending days writing code for a page, he has based some of the Courier & Press’ election day website design on the AP‘s website.

Stewart said they have used free informational widgets about candidates from the website Politiwidgets.com.

Stewart added that technology may go down sometimes, but it has made both the voting process and covering it faster and simpler.

“Technology is really a blessing and a curse when it comes to election results,” he said.

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