Four Ways to Jump Start Your Election Coverage

Aug 6, 2012

Summer is great for vacations and relaxation, but in an election year, news stations are ramping coverage of campaigns, the conventions, and eventually, election night in November.

Here are some ways to maximize audience service and stay within your resource limits.

1. Understand what your audience expects of you when it comes to events and live coverage

If your digital strategy focuses on coverage of local news and you’re not in Charlotte or Tampa Bay, where the conventions are occurring, you probably won’t offer wall-to-wall coverage of these highly choreographed events. That isn’t what your audience is expecting from you. But your local news coverage may well include reports on your state’ delegation or notables who are attending, That’s what your audience expects, and it’s valuable. You can also use the NPR API to selectively re-publish convention stories or posts from the Two-Way blog that you think will be of interest to your audience.

Are separate election coverage pages valuable? They tend to get a very small audience, so spending a lot of time energy building them is not likely to pay much of a return. The good news is using tags and categories in most content management systems allows you to create instant election pages for users who want to take a deep dive into the stories. More about that in a minute.

2. Plan your coverage ahead of time

In busy newsrooms (and all good newsrooms are in a time crunch), planning can sometimes fall by the wayside or be relegated to a hasty “who is going to do what” meeting. Now is a good time to plan your coverage for November and to create a content calendar. When will you air and post candidate profile pieces? What are the local election issues you want to highlight and report? Who is going to do the work? There’s so much you can’t plan for when it comes to news, that it pays to take advantage of opportunities to schedule your coverage whenever you can.

3. Post your stories ahead of time

It’s perhaps true that most voters don’t really start to pay attention closely to the campaigns until after the conventions and Labor Day, but there’s a lot of election-related content that you can post now: explainers about initiatives on the ballot, candidate profiles. Even short summaries with links to candidate position statements and voting histories can be valuable. Think about what questions your community might be asking come election day and create content that explains and answers those questions. None of that has to wait until September or October. You can post it to the site now.

4. Use your web tools wisely

Earlier, I mentioned letting tags and categories do the heavy lifting in aggregating election coverage into useful content “bins”, saving you the work of building that all-purpose election page that won’t get much traffic. Some stations use an “elections 2012” tag or something similar to aggregate all their stuff. Other stations go deeper, with tags or categories built to surface content about specific races or important referenda on the ballot. Those are great ways for interested users to find your election coverage.

Stations using Core Publisher, our news-focused content tool, have additional options, two of which I’ll highlight.

Credit Michigan Radio

Topic Pages

A topic page is a page where you can thread together your ongoing coverage in one location. A topic page should give your reader an overview of the subject at the top of the page and a list of related stories below the summary. A relevant photo should also be in the topic page since readers want to see what they’re learning about. A Core Publisher topic page aggregates up to five tags into a single page.

What’s the best way to use a topic page?

Topic pages should be used for any event, person, organization, place or issue that merits ongoing coverage. For example, the New Hampshire Primary had been a news topic for member station NHPR for months, possibly years, before the actual primary date. A reader that comes across one primary story may be interested in other related stories. Michigan Radio created a topic page called Midwest Migration for its radio series on people who have left their state for better opportunities. A topic page satisfies the need to find all related stories on one page.  

How does a topic page differ from a tag page?

A topic page provides more context to the subject by giving an overview right away. A topic page in Core Publisher aggregates up to five tags into a single page (needs something like this). A tag, on the other hand, would have only the one-, two- or three-word tag at the top of the page with no context. Topic pages and tags aggregate content, but a topic page is a more elegant way of featuring that content. Check out the differences between KUNC’s South Carolina Primary topic page and their South Carolina Primary tag.

How do readers find topic pages?

You must direct your readers to topic pages by linking to them within your stories. When you’re doing a quick news update, link out to a topic page as a quick and easy way to direct readers to more information. You can also link to the topic page in the Related Content, Skybox and Sticky Strip fields.

Do I need to keep my topic page updated?

You may have to update your topic page if the summary appears out of date as fresh related stories come in. The New York Times has certainly updated its Mitt Romney topic page summary since he ran for the Republican nomination in 2008.

How do I create a topic page using Core Publisher?

  1. Go to Add content –> Topic
  2. Give your topic a Title (like “2012 Election” or “Midwest Migration”)
  3. Provide a summary in the Body field
  4. Upload image in the Topic Assets section
  5. Under Associated Tags, select up to five tags relevant to your topic
  6. Save

Credit PBA

Lead Stories Block

The Lead Stories block is a curated home page feature that allows you to prioritize news at the top of your page.

What is the best way to use Lead Stories?

Lead Stories gives you the ability to create content with a sense of priority, signaling to your audience what the most important stories of the moment are. It also gives you some flexibility to be creative with how you present stories. We recommend using it for stories and not on-news content.

How often should I update Lead Stories?

We recommend updating it at least twice a day. The block is very prominent and leaving it unchanged for too long could make your entire site appear stale.

Should I include announcements, promotions and pledge drive messages in the Lead Stories?

We strongly suggest you avoid using Lead Stories for announcements, promotions and pledge drive messages. Lead Stories is designed to give your users a sense of what news story or stories are important right now. With an emphasis on headlines and text, Lead Stories has the “look” of a news layout -- mixing in non-news content would likely confuse the user.

How do I implement the Lead Stories block?

  1. Go to Add Content --> Under Edit Queues --> Lead Stories.
  2. Change Number of Rows to the desired number of stories you wish to include (either one or three) --> Rebuild.
  3. In each Post field, start typing a headline to find the story you want displayed.
  4. Display check box next to each headline.
  5. Save Queue when you’re ready to publish the Lead Stories to your homepage.

NPR News will offer other tools for stations to use online during the conventions and election night, including additional reporting on The Two-Way blog and live streams. But your greatest success in audience service will come from your excellent local news coverage, plus some planning and strategizing.