5 Common Themes in Successful Station Election Coverage [VIDEO]

Nov 9, 2012

Credit Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour/Flickr

The time is now to assess what online coverage worked and what didn't on election day, and during this entire election cycle. In a recent webinar, I shared five common themes that have begun to emerge amongst station successes.  

Watch the video and click through the slides below. Here are some highlights:

1. Guides: Guides to ballot initiatives, how to vote, candidate positions and key questions were popular at many stations this election cycle. They answered the questions their community was asking, and provided a valuable service.  


  • WAMU's voter guide gave the site the most traffic they have ever seen in a single day by far, Online Managing Editor Seth Liss shared.
  • Michigan Radio's guide to ballot proposals was popular day after day as the election got closer.
  • KQED's proposition guide (they also did one in 2010), was hugely popular. The top five search terms on KQED's site the last month were: proposition, election, voter guide, proposition guide, and forum, News Engagement Specialist Ian Hill shared.


2. Collaboration: We saw many different types and examples of collaboration across the system. Successful collaborations utilized their resources wisely. Some even used them as bargaining tools to get local candidates to debate, two webinar attendees shared. 


  • Station to station collaboration in projects such as a voices of young voters series emphasized the issues that people care about state to state and city to city.
  • WKSU and WCPN simulcast their election night coverage on air, and had joint teams working on Twitter and Facebook. "Essentially, we created one of the biggest (and I'd argue best) reporting staffs of any media to cover Northeast Ohio," WKSU News Director M.L. Schultze wrote in an email.
  • Local media collaboration in places like St. Louis expanded reach, breadth and impact of coverage.
  • Collaboration can help stations have the resources to cover stories that aren't getting a lot of coverage, but should, Todd Mundt shared in a blog post detailing initial takeaways from the Battleground experiment.

3. Evolving, live, online coverage:  Live blogs, live updates and live social media updates were key to many stations' and reporters' coverage. They added a dynamic look to many homepages, and pulled in videos, photos, sound and tweets to show the whole story.


  • Minnesota Public Radio's election night live blog got more traffic than any individual story "on an amazing night for traffic," Jon Gordon, MPR's Digital Products and Innovation Senior Editor, shared in an email. 
  • WUSF in Florida used Storify on election night to share live updates, after successfully doing so for the Republican National Convention in August,  News Director Scott Finn shared. 

4. Focused local content, especially on ballots and key topics: Results can get old quickly, but pinpointing some key themes and topics to cover was one way some stations made their coverage unique and longer-lasting. 


  • KPLU in Seattle prepared for what they knew most people would be interested in on election day in Washington: ballots about marijuana and same-sex marriage. They covered it live online, too.
  • Illinois Public Media held a series of community conversations where the community told them the topics they cared about. WILL made to sure to cover the ones that came up in depth throughout election season, Director of News and Public Affairs Craig Cohen shared. "Our coverage reflected the needs of our community, and provided valuable content on a variety of platforms," Cohen said in an email.

5. Visuals: 

WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti tweeted photos from the Elizabeth Warren headquarters on election night.
Credit Meghna Chakrabarti
Throughout the election season, visuals were a vital aspect. Reporters shared photos on their Twitter accounts and shot videos with their phones. Web producers used crowdsourcing and apps such as Instagram to ask others to share their experiences visually, too. 


Station Election Coverage in 2012: 5 Themes to Success from NPR Digital Services on Vimeo.

Slides: Slides will be posted when they are available.