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Nick R. Martin

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Solving an election day dilemma with a map and a good idea
By Nick R. Martin | February 5, 2008

The Super Tuesday elections were plenty exciting. Obama and Clinton remained in a dead heat. Huckabee took the south. Romney's campaign will have "frank discussions" about its future. But while much of the the U.S. was watching the blow-by-blow on cable news or surfing between the newspaper websites, a number of people were chatting about the races on Twitter, and their discussions were being picked up and posted on a specially-designed Google map that added a little extra "wow" to the day.

I talked to a reporter friend of mine today about the value of "hyperlocalism" in election coverage. At metro newspapers across the nation, journalists were dispatched to coffee shops and polling places to get color and opinions from American voters. Those short pieces were then tossed onto blogs, giving readers quickly-changing updates. The theory was to pull the coverage away from the talking heads and pollsters and bring the focus to the wisdom of the people who are actually making the choices. But looking at the coverage online, my friend and I agreed, the color was often dull and too much effort went to getting it. This type street-jump coverage seems to please editors more than it edifies readers. Take the Orange County Register blog called "All things Presidential," for instance. Reporters were "hanging out" with campaign supporters and interviewing voters who "shrugged their shoulders" when asked who they prefer. It was a nice effort, but it brought little to the day's discussion, a fact shown by the number of comments readers left at the bottom of each post (most had none by almost midnight).

Now go back to the Google map. Regular people, the kind editors love, are contributing to the international discussion about the race. "I am going to be a wreck in the fall if Super Tuesday is any indication," writes a woman in Queens, New York. The map moves around depending on where the comment is coming from. It's fun for readers to watch, and probably more fun for the people writing it. "I can't believe CA is going for Clinton," writes a man in Portland, Oregon. Real-time election results are also posted beside the map. The coverage loses the live color and depth that a reporter can provide, but if that color and depth were hardly there anyway, you're not losing much. Plus, it still provides the news, and it's probably cheaper to set up if you have a knowledgeable and savvy developer on staff than it is to send a dozen reporters out to local coffee shops.


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