This text is the English version of my Media DJ column for Rascunho
The election season is always demanding for media, both during the campaign and the election day: confronting statements from the political actors, institutional reactions, a life on the road following candidates, reporting the small moments that make the routine of the political organizations during vote hunting season, and afterwards, presenting the results as fast as possible. And the internet is the best medium to do this.
2009 will be remembered as the year where Portuguese elections found their way into the internet. Looking to mimic the “Obama effect”, almost all parties invested – better or worse- in an online presence that engaged citizens (i.e. potential electors). We just have to look at Twitter and see how many local board members created accounts, or how many candidates to mayor invested in websites and social networks. Nonetheless, those efforts seem most of the times to be ineffective, not that useful for the common citizen.
But for the media, the internet has been a powerful tool. Besides aggregating content from different sources, the open nature of thw web invites to discussion and personal opinion. It is possible to create (unscientifical) polls about voting trends, or diffrent hot political topics; or even evaluate the quality of life in the city where you live in; or participate in real time as outside commentators of political debates. If the media manage to create spaces that use the spontaneous participation of citizens, they will also keep them as regular users of their contents.
Besides, the easy production of real time content allows a bigger proximity of the citizen with the political and civical processes of the election period. There is interest on his behalf, and his participation must be enabled.
One of the projects that got my attentioin during this long electoral journey in Potugal was Portuguese public television’s Mobile Journalist. The idea was to have journalists sending videos, reports, pictures live from the campaign actions spread out through the country. Why wait for the night tv news if we can see the statements, actions and reactions of the politicians in their quest for the vote, as they happen? Besides, although being Portugal a small country, news orgs can’t always send reporters to every campaign spot. The information can be gathered from user generated content, and local correspondents equiped with the appropriate gear.
Still, mojo reporters must be well oriented, and methods should be well defined so the content they bring is more valuable and just not “more content”. Radio reporters are the ones more fit to deal with the contingencies of this type of operation, but it is also needed that help them develop the video side. Anyway, i must congratulate RTP for investing in this idea, and for being the only company investing in this concept.
Another quite effective project was Público’s Eleições2009, that besides gathering opinions from the blogosphere and having room for the usual campaign news, also included tweets from the political forces, related news from other (international) media, in a well developed mashup, where its conceptual format benefits from the characteristics of the subject. In plain English, information and opinion in real time suit political coverage. And in this specific case it seems to have worked.
Another thing that fits perfectly with online news projects is numbers: poll results, votes, abstention percentages, comparisons with previous elections, all of this scattered through different regions, and provided in real time. The two best electoral results i found in the elections night were exactly the RTP‘s and Público, in my opinion.
The most important is that media know how to ride the news flow. Elections, because of the high amount of more or less predictable content, allows to develop experiences and train journalists to digital media, so they can know what to do in breaking and off-the-agenda events.
As always, i want to know your opinion: do you know any other interesting political coverage website? And how would you like to participate with news websites during political campaigns?