We’ve now used Twitter to extensively cover two hurricanes and one Austin City Limits Music Festival. The Next Big Thing is the election. Twitter has done a good job with its Election page, and CNN and NYT will certainly do a great job covering the election.
So, the question is: what can a small metro paper do (or a smaller one)?
I know we live in gloomy times in journalism, but I prefer to think of them as innovative times. There are tools we can use in an election that a newspaper journalist could only dream of having just a few years ago. And we’re frankly being forced to innovate.
Here are some of my favorite tools for covering events like an election:
1. Blogs – I know that it’s sooooo 2005 to even mention a blog, but a good blog done well can go a long way, even for a smaller paper. People think blogs are just opinions – and many of them are. But the best blogs are authoritative works by journalists who put in the reporting work.
2. Live blogs – A step farther is the live blog. We’ve been using CoverItLive for a while now to make our blogs more real-time (and encourage more user participation). CoverItLive embeds right in any blogging software and looks professional. It’s easy to use – and it’s FREE (though maybe not for much longer). Take advantage of this software. Check out something cool we did with it – we hosted a joint live chat. Our Longhorns beat writer and the Sooners beat writer for the Daily Oklahoman chatted in the same session. Each paper hosted that live chat. So Sooners fans and Longhorns fans were together for an hour.
3. Twitter – I know I sound like a broken record here, but Twitter really can be a good reporting tool. I think we have proven that with our coverage of Hurricane Ike. The next step is to really find a good way to harness what the community is saying as well (the way Twitter itself is doing with its election coverage). But beyond aggregating the community’s Tweets in one place, I think a newspaper has to find a way to steer the conversation. I’m going to try some of that this November (by asking people to report on their polling places, etc.).
4. Video – I’m not necessarily a huge fan of video on newspaper Web sites. To be frank, I think most people are not looking for video when they’re sitting in their cubicles at work … and most people are reading newspaper sites during their work shifts. That being said, I think video done right adds a lot to a report. Ideally, we’ll find a way to get honest, raw opinions from voters as they head to the polls or as soon as they come out.
5. UGC (user-generated content). Outside of Twitter, it would be nice to find a way to get the community more involved. In a Democracy, nothing is more community-oriented than gathering in November to vote. Newspapers should be open to leading their Web sites with a reader-submitted photo. They should be willing to play up a user-submitted video. They need to make both easy to upload to their site – and they need to encourage it. UGC isn’t going to bring more page views necessarily, but it puts the newspaper in the position of being THE place for the community to go. And that’s where we need to be.
In the next few weeks, you’ll see me attempt to do all of the above. What more should we (as newspapers) be doing? What tools are we missing out on? We want your help!