Election coverage: It’s all about the plan

A panel of election coverage heavyweights brought together a wealth of experience on different media platforms, but one thing stands out in the news coverage: STICK TO THE PLAN!

Jason Chiu, a design editor at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, has some back-to-basics advice for how to make your election coverage shine. “Build templates. Assign lengths. Assign photo shapes. Establish deadlines. Inform the staff. Stick to the plan. It seems simple, but it’s easy to get off track during a big news day,” he said.

Less is more when planning for how your newsroom will handle the big news on election night. “You don’t need everyone staff in the house. … More people can mean more chaos,” Jason said. Instead, make sure all the key players have an assigned job.

“Avoid the midnight band-aid,” he said. “Plan for the day after the big day.” You have one day every four years to be memorable in your readers’ minds, make sure it counts.

Colin Smith, the design editor at The Salt Lake Tribune, built on Jason’s newsroom foundations and said it’s important to focus on using intelligent templates based on what has worked in the past and give each piece a defined role.

If you’re flexible, Colin said, you can create modules that will move to accommodate even the biggest of breaking news events during your planned election coverage. Once you’ve finished, quickly critique those pages to pick out what can be repurposed in the future. Save pages that work.

“Sure Daisy Designer made a template. She won’t win any awards … but, by god, she survived the night,” he said. And in the end, isn’t that what everyone is trying to do?

Levi Chronister is a producer for the interactivity team at The Washington Post and focused on the breadth of coverage news organizations can offer potential voters during election season.

“Become Google for your readers during an election,” Levi said. “Give them so much info, they won’t need to go anywhere else.”

He said focusing on giving readers as much as possible will give them a chance to make an informed decision earlier. Voting guides, pre-election polls with precinct maps and detailed candidate profiles are the kinds of content readers crave.

Derek Willis, a member of the interactive news group at The New York Times, said covering elections can be difficult because “they are a deeply local and almost personal experience.”

The entire purpose of an election is to be participatory, and news coverage should do that too. Find out what’s important to your core and get it first, he said.

Everyone on the panel agreed planning is the key to making election night as painless as possible. There should be few surprises for a well-prepared election news team, Derek said. And when the night comes, sticking to the plan makes all the difference.

“Your job is to stop traffic. … Let’s not do anything that night that we didn’t already plan for. The machine is in motion.”

Get the handouts

You can grab Colin’s handouts at http://files.me.com/colinsmi/c4ecku and Derek’s presentation slides at http://bit.ly/p0n46j.