10 Steps to a Digital Election Coverage Plan: Your Examples

Oct 3, 2012

If you’re still pulling together your election coverage or are looking for more ideas, we shared a procrastinator’s guide to a digital election coverage plan in a webinar Sept 27.  

Within the guide are  10 steps to think about, along with lots of examples of how public media have used those steps in their own local coverage. Here are those examples, along with several others that participants shared:

1. Choose your battles 

Set yourself apart and really think about what to cover and how. Avoid cliches and write the second day stories on the first day because you're competing with anyone that can post on the internet and social media.


  • Illinois Public Media’s Sean Powers shared during the webinar that during the last election they tried to do too much. Now they’re refocusing on pre-election coverage, rather than pouring energy into the results that everyone will have faster on election night.
  • WBUR’s online coverage of the Scott Brown versus Elizabeth Warren senate race is full of second-day deeper dives during debates and overall. It provides perspective, analysiswhy it matters and goes outside the box.

 2. Write breaking news in advance 

The only way to get ahead with ‘what happened’ stories is to be on it immediately and to focus on the implications of key initiatives and races. Consider prewriting different versions for online and social media for the most important stories.

 3. Selectively use NPR and other organizations' tools  

Be selective, and use content and tools that have local relevance and will make your coverage better. Don't use something just because it is 'cool.'

  • WUSF in Tampa used the NPR API selectively during the Republican National Convention to complement their coverage, focusing on stories that locals cared about and that had key words in headlines.
  • New Orleans’ WWNO used an iFrame to embed a project by the NPR apps team that shows early voting deadlines by state. It is also possible to directly link to a state by including # and the postal code at the end of the app's URL, such as http://apps.npr.org/early-voting-2012/#la.


4. Link out to other local and national coverage

It's simple: Do what you do best, link to the rest. 

  • The Two Way and It's All Politics blogs from NPR are great examples to study in the usefulness of linking out.
  • StateImpact sites have linking out and aggregating in their DNA because there are often few reporters covering a topic. They keep it simple, consistent and affective.

 5. Embed multimedia that is useful

 Consider embedding maps, video, documents and other tools. Useful is the key term - make sure to provide local context and analysis around them.

  • The PBS NewsHour map center has interesting data sets state by state that you can embed and either build a story around or use to complement reporting. 
  • KUNC  is one of several stations that uses video from YouTube of key political figures and speeches.
  • KPBS creates their own video, usefully sharing entire videos of key events and interviews.
  • Vermont Public Radio posted video of a debate from their studios, and linked to specific questions using YouTube's Deep Links feature
  • OPB used the tool Storify to post reaction on social media to a mayoral candidate debate.
  • WESA used Document Cloud to post a judge's ruling on a Pennsylvania voter ID law. Scribd is another option to post documents.

6. Create informal partnerships

 Informal partnerships are easier than ever online and on social media.

  • Seattle media decided on an election hashtag together in 2011, all through a Twitter conversation.
  • Beyond November, a formal partnership between public media in St. Louis, uses informal tactics as well, such as sharing a hashtag, linking to others and sharing content plans.


7. Use social media to find out what your audience wants to know and include them

Why not ask what questions people have, and answer them?


8. Create and update guides to other good content

Combine the previous tactics, and make sure to utilize your archives to pull guides together to propositions, races and issues that people want to know more about before they head to the ballot box.

  • KQED has comprehensive, easy-to-read,  understandable voter guides. They also are mobile-friendly.
  • StateImpact uses topic pages, dips into archives and links out to add context and be findable via search. 


9. Cover it live on election night (or other big nights)

Post live updates on election night, live tweet or host a live chat or live blog. (Join a webinar October 11 to talk more about live blogging, tweeting and chatting)

10. Streamline coverage

Leave the witty title for your election coverage on the drawing board. Stick to a simple name, and don't spend too much time making a fancy election page - instead, refocus that time on the individual stories. As always, make sure that election coverage is easy to find, and uses good headline writing to be shareable and searchable.

Register for more election webinars. Have other examples or tools to share? Email them to tgorman@npr.org or send a Tweet to @gteresa.