What do you do on election night? I ask because I sincerely want to know what we might do better.
For the most part, this week’s election night in the Half Moon Bay Review newsroom was pretty darn similar to my first election night with the newspaper in 2004. In fact, it was only significantly different in one respect from the way I covered elections in the 1980s.
We divvied up assignments. Mark took the City Council and Harbor District, Julia got the Fire District and school board and I resolved to write about a tax measure. We made sure we had cell numbers for all the players. We wrote our B matter ahead of time. That’s the soft, gooey center of civic journalism, with candidate ages, a sentence or two about their positions and history, etc. (If you aren’t doing this ahead of time, see me. I’ll be happy to tell you how to go about it.) And then we waited for results to start rolling in. In keeping with newsroom practice since the Paleolithic era, we ate pizza on election night. (I highly recommend the meaty Montara Mountain at It’s Italia on Main Street…)
The only substantive difference from, say, the mid-1990s, is that there are now reliable online numbers that make waiting around the county elections office sort of quaint.
Sure, we do more than plop it in the newspaper for next-day consumption. We tweet the winners, put photos from election parties on Facebook and update the website as quickly as possible. …
Still, it feels a little stale to me. And if the day-after newspaper bores me, well…
Here’s one thing we did for the first time: We held a post-election post mortem, going over our processes and the things that worked and did not work on a tight deadline.
My notes included:
Send photos to social media. I saw other local news outlets tweeting photos from candidate parties and election offices. Those were cool; few voters are invited into that inner sanctum and for the political junkies, I think that works. We resolved to send those photos next time.
More and better mugshots. We had some trouble getting all the head shots we needed beforehand. We always shoot candidates as they come in for endorsements, but we were missing some of the more far-flung candidates. We resolve to do better. In fact, we should send a photographer to all local board meetings to get fresh shots.
Learn to just plug in quotes and let it go. We need to be quicker about getting those quotes on deadline and turning around our stories. The B matter should be ready with just a lede and a quote or two. We’ll work on it.
Percentages or raw numbers? We just need to decide. I suggest using both (Bob Jones won with 1,453 votes, or 33 percent of the votes cast…) We can’t do it one way in story A and another in report B.
So what do you do? We certainly try to get quick on-deadline quotes from winners and sometimes losers, but I’m not sure we learn much from those one-liners. We usually run a rail on 1A so people can see the winners quickly.
What else? What do you put in your newspaper the day after the election that ties it all up or analyzes results or sets up the new city council?
Please comment here and/or send me a note if you have ideas for injecting some life into election coverage.