Disgust. Uneasiness. Anger.
As voters put an end to election season tomorrow (hopefully), these aren’t the feelings generally associated with declaring winners. Those words also apply to how many people view the news media. So for news organizations, striking the right tone on election night is important.
Here are some big picture thoughts before you get caught up in live shots and crew assignments.
- Social Media – As with all breaking news these days, social media will dominate. Not only will information show up on social media first, but so will reaction from followers, friends and family. Have your voice be robust tomorrow. Don’t just post, engage. Be the source for facts and jump in to dispute rumor.
- Facebook Live is now a widely-viewed distribution stream. Are you planning for your programming there as well as on-air and online?
- Being first is great; being right is better – News people are by nature competitive. On a night when there is so much information flowing, and so many places to turn on-air and online, don’t get caught up in beating team X by thirty seconds. Make sure the facts are right, the push alerts worded correctly and you aren’t spending the next week apologizing for dumb errors.
- Is it fair? As people cast ballots, you need to report on the rules and any attempts to wrongly influence voting. You also need to report when it’s going right. A sizable portion of voters are suspicious of the process. Be the public watchdog on fairness issues.
- Numbers vs. Stories – Television must provide numbers, but as a medium it excels at telling stories. Your televised coverage should focus on the story of the election in your area, complete with lots of people and the emotion attached to the vote. Are people hurt, angry, scared? It’s more about the electorate than just the people who show up at victory parties.
The old adage says you can’t help yourself much on election night, but you can do damage if coverage doesn’t go well. This year the media has already been damaged in the eyes of voters. Election night is an opportunity to prove to skeptics that you can get it right.