11 ways digital publishers covered Election Night

The Interhacktives team examines the various ways publishers experimented with their US Election Night coverage.

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All eyes were on the United States two short weeks ago when it elected its next president. Many digital publishers used the opportunity to explore some creative new ways to cover the event as election and polling results rolled in throughout the night.

The Interhacktives team tuned into some live online coverage intently across the pond. Here were some that stood out:

Vox’s Election Day emotion tracker

(Screenshot: Vox)
Vox’s audience were excited and unhappy at the time this screenshot was taken. (Screenshot: Vox)

Vox’s Election Day emotion tracker is a perfect example of finding human stories from data. The site encouraged its audience to input their emotions throughout polling day, so that they could see how many other Vox readers were feeling the same way.

You can now see how emotions varied over the course of the day, filtered by the respondent’s preferred candidate.

Luke Barratt

CNN’s Politics app

A screenshot of the CNN Politics app on 8 November. (Screenshot: CNN Politics)
The CNN Politics app on 8 November. (Screenshot: CNN Politics)

CNN worked hard throughout the election cycle with an entire section of its website dedicated to election-related news, pushing out interactive series on its website such as “Global Headaches,” which invited readers to vote on the 45th president’s biggest foreign policy issues, and so on.

Throughout Election Night, CNN updated “CNN Politics,” its iOS app dedicated to data-driven election news released earlier this year, in real time. Whenever a candidate won a state, the app published a graphic of the winning candidate superimposed on a map of the state, along with the number of EC votes each candidate had tallied up, and exit/opinion poll results if available.

The app is divided into three main sections: “Insights,” featuring short stories driven by polling data; “Latest News,” with election-related CNN stories loaded directly on the app; and “Who’s Winning” (later renamed “How He Won”, and then “The Transition”) containing the results of national and state polls when possible. Since 8 November the app has continued to update with data and news-driven stories reflecting on the election’s outcome.

CNN also published updates to its Kik, Snapchat Discover channel and Amazon Echo channels throughout the night.

AJ Plus’ Facebook Messenger bot

A screenshot of the author's "conversation" with Mila. (Screenshot: AJ+/Facebook)
Part of the author’s “conversation” with Mila. (Screenshot: AJ+/Facebook)

AJ+, Al Jazeera’s social publishing arm, created a Facebook Messenger bot on 5 November that would act as the subscriber’s’ “guide” over the course of Election Night. The bot, named Mila, provided graphical visualisations, gifs and ajplus.com articles of the candidates’ positions and election outcomes, depending on what the reader asked to see. Here’s how AJ+ managed the interaction between the bot and readers, per Journalism.co.uk:

If they [readers] typed in “immigration” or “abortion”, Mila would return a fact card, profiles of the candidates, or an AJ+ video that could be watched inside Messenger. They could also send AJ+ photos reflecting their experiences on voting day.

Some of these reader reactions also made it onto AJ+’s social media channels.

AJ+ also hosted a Facebook Live video, and posted graphics and gifs on Twitter throughout the night.

Alexandra Ma

Quartz’s Slack channel

A screenshot of Quartz's public Slack channel. (Screenshot: Quartz/Slack)
An emoji- and link-fuelled conversation Quartz’s public Slack channel. (Screenshot: Quartz/Slack)

As Quartz’s coverage pays attention to, but doesn’t typically break news, the publisher forwent a standard live feed and elected instead to promote its Slack channel.

Editorial staff sent qz.com content to the Slack channel fairly regularly, but the conversation that ensued wasn’t exactly sparkling.

It was fun to see emojis feature heavily in the conversation, and to take part in a journalist-heavy Slack channel, but the conversation as a whole read like an unmoderated Facebook comment thread — fast-paced and repetitive.

A redeeming moment, however, was when a fellow user uploaded an entire spreadsheet featuring historical and current election outcomes of every single state:

Ryan Watts

Google’s Electionland

The Google Trends team gathered data from Google searches, released in real time, to see what people were asking about the US election throughout the night. It combined search terms around five main topics and charted spikes in searches for these topics across the US:

  • Provisional ballots status
  • Long wait times at polling stations
  • Inactive voter status
  • Voting machine issues
  • Voter intimidation at polling places

The geolocated search terms hinted at election trends that we should have perhaps picked up on sooner. For example, markers for long wait times at polling stations, which began to spring up across the map, suggested that the long-ignored white working class was turning out en masse for this election.

Luke Barratt

BuzzFeed/Twitter’s Election Night live show

BuzzFeed teamed up with Twitter to live-stream an Election Night show, which took on the style of a TV broadcast — so much so that the digital outlet had hired a TV producer to oversee the production.

The video was clearly aimed at millennials as it featured BuzzFeed’s classic “WTF” yellow stickers, emoji reactions and special appearances including Tony Goldwyn, the actor who plays President Fitzgerald Grant in Scandal, Ken Bone, and even a pre-recorded interview with President Obama.

The livestream wasn’t shy of political analysis, either, with BuzzFeed News journalists reporting live at locations across New York and London.

Some 6.8 million unique viewers, 83 percent of whom were under 35, tuned in to the special livestream, per Twitter statistics. BuzzFeed’s live blog, however, was disappointingly simple compared to their previous Election and Referendum coverage.

Bridie Pearson-Jones

The Washington Post’s live map

The Washington Post's live map. (Screenshot: The Washington Post)
The Washington Post’s live map. (Screenshot: The Washington Post)

WashPost debuted a map that showed the number of electoral colleges won in each state and changed colours as results came out throughout the night. In most cases, WashPost seemed to update its map faster than many other news publishers like the Guardian and some Indian publications.

WashPost also launched a geo-targeted “live email newsletter” containing content that changed according to the time the reader opened it.

Ayushman Basu

The Huffington Post’s electoral live tracker

HuffPost's live electoral map. (Source: The Huffington Post)
The Huffington Post’s live electoral map. (Source: The Huffington Post)

HuffPost created a descriptive electoral live tracker that was easy to follow. The map was divided into ‘Electoral Votes’ and ‘Geography’. Hovering over each state gave an idea of who was winning. There was an additional index beside the map which stated who won/led and the percentage of votes counted.

Trump is melting. (Source: The Huffington Post/Facebook)
Trump is melting. (Source: The Huffington Post/Facebook)

On Election Day, HuffPost also launched a live blog with short news updates, videos and UGC updated regularly. It posted a Facebook Live video featuring a lit wax candle shaped as Donald Trump, inviting viewers to watch the candle melt. Some people might have felt a bit odd watching the Trump candle melt and then see him win the election…

Ayushman Basu

The New York Times’ live updates

A zoom into The New York Times' live electoral map. (Screenshot: The New York Times)
A zoom into the New York Times’ live electoral map. (Screenshot: The New York Times)

While the New York Times Upshot’s election tracker has now become infamous for swinging its prediction from a 80+ percent chance of a Clinton victory to a 95 percent likelihood of a Trump win, its live blog was fantastic.

Live updates on the nytimes.com website included statistics on the number of Electoral College votes each candidate had gained, and the candidate’s chances of winning each state and the country overall.

The blog also had a great user interface, with colour-coded maps and ticks next to the winning candidate’s name whenever he/she won a state. It was a fantastic example of how to break down information-heavy issues in an accessible way.

Bridie Pearson-Jones

BBC

The BBC used colours and size — and its iconic election hexagons — to present its coverage. (Screenshot: BBC)
The BBC used colours and size — and its iconic election hexagons — to present its coverage. (Screenshot: BBC)

The BBC, who dedicated an entire landing page to the elections coverage, experimented with a range of different ways to tell the story, including breakdowns of voter demographics and explainers for its predominantly British audience of how the election worked. BBC presenters, including Andrew Neil, Emily Maitlis and Jeremy Vine, also reported live from New York.

On a night that was saturated with coverage, one of the most useful things was the BBC’s live Electoral College vote counter, which was a searchable interactive map that allowed users to find the results of each state easily.

The landing page has continued to update with news and analysis on the election’s aftermath.

Helen Chandler-Wilde, Alexandra Ma

The Guardian’s app

Pixellated Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump pop up on the Guardian's push alerts. (Source: The Guardian)
Pixellated Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear on the Guardian’s push alerts. (Source: The Guardian)

The Guardian’s app sent out push notifications after every development, which anchored its alerts to many lock screens, but the content it loaded was the same live blog featured on its website.

The app’s 8-bit depictions of mini pixelated Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump guarding the app’s live blog were a great touch, though.

Being able to access the number of states called, the popular vote toll, percentage of precincts reporting, and electoral college votes counted with one swipe was also useful.

Ryan Watts

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