A recap of my first election night

Well, Election Day has come and gone. And I survived.

As I wrote in my last post, this election was the first one I’ve worked in a newsroom. Throughout the night, I was in charge of monitoring and posting content to our live blog, tweeting from our Tribune account and posting updates on our Facebook page.

It was an exciting – albeit exhausting – night that went much smoother than I had expected. Most of the races had been called by the time we had to go to print, which was a nice surprise. (Also, in case you were wondering, most of us left the office about 2:30 a.m. Yeah, it was a loooong night.)

Here’s me on election night, working hard! In this picture I have TweetDeck up and my phone and coffee nearby, so this is pretty much what I looked like all night. Thanks to my editor Kelly Boldan for taking this picture.

Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on our election coverage, I’d like to share some things that I think went really well and some things that could have gone a little better. I’m going to focus on my part in the process, since I can’t speak for anyone else.

First, let’s start with the positives:

  1. Our live blog seemed to go over well with our online readers. We posted the blog on our website about 6:30 p.m., and throughout the night we kept gaining readers. By the end of the night, we had 1,048 clicks and 5,061 views on the blog. To feed the blog, I watched some of the key local and statewide races closely on the Secretary of State website and posted updates. We also established the hashtag #wct2012 on Twitter and added that to our blog so that anyone – our reporters or our readers – tweeting with that hashtag could contribute. Finally, we also used AP content to post updates on national results, including the presidential race. People reading our blog could interact with us by answering some of our poll questions and posting their own comments for us to publish.
  2. As I mentioned, we established the hashtag #wct2012 on Twitter to tweet updates throughout the night. We encouraged our followers on Twitter to also use the hashtag when posting Election Day pictures and updates. We actually had some readers use the hashtag, which is a huge victory for us. Twitter is something that we’ve really been pushing at the Tribune, and it’s nice to see more and more people interact with us there all the time.
  3. We also saw lots of interaction on our Facebook page. I posted fewer updates there (it’s better to use Facebook more sparingly so you don’t overwhelm your followers) and concentrated mostly on larger, closer races: the president, Senate District 17, Willmar City Council and the Willmar School Board. We saw an above-average number of likes and comments on all of our posts, especially when we posted that President Obama had won re-election. We now have 36 likes and 16 comments on that post.
  4. On both our Twitter and Facebook accounts, we gained followers throughout the day. We gained 7 followers on Facebook from the start of Tuesday and close to 20 followers on Twitter. It’s exciting to see readers looking to the Tribune’s social media accounts for updates on major stories.

Now, for some things I learned on election night:

  1. I should have put some more planning into our live blog. From the time we launched the blog to the time results started coming in for Minnesota at 8 p.m., we didn’t have as much content to post to the blog as I would have liked. We concentrated mainly on East Coast results for the presidential election, but it would have been nice to post more local coverage – for example, state and local races to watch, interesting tidbits about some of the candidates, etc.
  2. I also wish I had organized my Twitter stream more effectively. There were so many people tweeting on election night that it was hard to separate national from state from local. Since I use Twitter heavily to stay on top of what’s happening, I should have made more Twitter lists to segment my feed. It would have made my job much easier and saved me some frustration.
  3. Even though we had a good amount of reader interaction on our live blog and with our Twitter hashtag, I think if we had promoted those more heavily in the days leading up to the election, we could have seen even more interaction. Next time, we should start promoting our digital coverage and social media feeds earlier – in the paper, on our website and on our Facebook and Twitter pages. If more people had known about our live blog/social media presence in the days leading up to the election, they might have used those even more.

And some general observances from my first election night in a newsroom:

  1. As I suspected, food plays a major part in keeping everyone happy throughout the night. At the Tribune, we had everything from pizza and chips to sushi and apples. Something for everyone, I guess. (On a side note, I did try sushi for the first time. Risky, I know. But it wasn’t nearly as disgusting as I expected raw fish to be.)
  2. The Secretary of State’s website, on election night, is pretty much the worst thing ever. Probably 50 percent of my night consisted of refreshing web pages to try and get results (and even then to no avail. It was extremely frustrating.)
  3. I feel so, so lucky to be working at a newspaper that tries new things and takes risks in our digital coverage. At smaller, more rural newspapers, it can be easy to focus entirely on the print product and let digital coverage slide, but at the Tribune, we’re all committed to our digital efforts as well. It’s a good feeling to know that we’re working with our future in mind and taking digital innovation seriously.

So that’s about it. What did you think of the election? Was there a particular race outcome that surprised you? What did you think about our election coverage?

2 thoughts on “A recap of my first election night

  1. Ashley, working the election night coverage at the radio station that night, I to was very frustrated with the secretary of state Web site!! You would think they would know its going to be very heavy traffic on there site, and would be prepared for that. You did a great job on twitter that night

  2. Hi Paul, I heard the same thing about the SOS website from almost everyone! I hope they learned their lesson and that next election, they will be a little more prepared for the traffic surge. Thanks for your comment and for following us on Twitter that night! :)

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