Social networks add richness to election night experience

Posted on November 04, 2010 by Janet Coats

For the first time in 27 years, I was not in a newsroom on election night this year.

Watching election coverage as a civilian was a kind of out-of-body experience. I found myself thinking about what they must be doing in my last newsroom at The Tampa Tribune at each milestone of the evening: as the polls closed, as results began to come in, as it became obvious that Florida’s governor race would not be decided on Tuesday night.

And I found myself sharing my feelings of disorientation through social media with other friends who have left the newsroom. On Facebook, a group of us talked about favorite election night memories. The Florida veterans in the group talked about the 2000 election, and I remembered ordering the front page editor at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to punch Page 1 with the headline “Bush Wins.’’

We were right – eventually. But that didn’t make me feel any better as those newspapers rolled off the press that night, and it became abundantly clear we were headed into uncharted territory.

It’s fun to remember the “good old days,’’ I thought, but as I watched Tuesday night, I was mostly glad that I didn’t have to worry about what headline was going on the front page of a newspaper.

In a digital age, we have the chance to both get it right in the moment and get it right over time. We have the chance to build the kind of interactive maps that allow you both to get the sense of what is happening with a glance and to drill down into detail.

In the run-up to this election, I found myself relying more and more on social media to guide my reading habits. As friends posted links to coverage they found interesting, I found myself grazing through stories I otherwise never would have seen. I also found myself exposed to more directly partisan coverage, as Facebook friends with a definite point of view posted material that reinforced their own thinking. And I’ve seen state-level coverage from around the country that I never would have sought out before, as geographically widespread social network shared stories from their own locales.

As a political junkie, I’ve valued all of it. And as a journalism junkie, it has helped me to better understand just how rich and diverse the news ecosystem is becoming.

One of the things I loved most about being in the newsroom for all those election cycles was the opportunity to go to our political reporters and ask them what they are hearing, to pick their brains about what their experience tells them is really going on. I’ve often wondered how better to reflect those conversations in news coverage.

On Tuesday night and in the election aftermath on Wednesday, I saw how that is happening. An election is a finite event (the year-round campaigning to the contrary), and it is easy to see how the news ecosystem is evolving through that prism.

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