Learning from Chicago’s social runoff

Rahm Emanuel, who won re-election as Chicago mayor after the first runoff in city history. (Photo: danxoneil/Flickr under CC)

Rahm Emanuel, who won re-election as Chicago mayor after the first runoff in city history. (Photo: danxoneil/Flickr under CC)

On April 7, Rahm Emanuel was re-elected as the Mayor of Chicago in the first runoff for the office in the history of the city.

Emanuel, known to many as a Congressman and the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, defeated Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, 56 percent to 44 percent. The runoff came after an election earlier in February where no candidate had reached a majority of votes.

As the runoff campaign took place, Twitter had become a hub for reporting on the campaign, and for Lauren Chooljian, the City Hall reporter for NPR station WBEZ, she wanted it to become a core tool in her telling the story of the campaign.

“Because there was so much interest in the runoff (we hadn’t been there before), I wanted to be as open and transparent as possible,” Chooljian said in a telephone interview, noting she wanted to do snapshots of the campaign, with views also from voters. “As the race was ebbing and flowing (days that some thought Garcia performed better or Emanuel performed better), I did snapshots and longer pieces. I was tweeting much more often too.”

With the large profile this had gotten not just in the city, but also nationally on a political scale, Twitter had become a new way to engage not only those interested, but also attract new audiences. Chooljian had been getting followers from RTs from WBEZ’s Twitter account as well as from other followers.

However, Chooljian says, the traditional on the ground reporting still played a central role.

“Face time still means the most to the Mayor and Garcia,” Chooljian said. “All the tweets in the world can’t do what showing up and doing reporting can do. It can move the stories out further and get people involved.  I have no idea how many people hear my stories, but some of my tweets can go all over the place. Twitter is a way to reach a different segment of our audience.”

Chooljian looked at the human aspect as well of the story, trying to build the longer story of the campaign and the affect on the people of the city, and with Twitter, Chooljian said it made a difference as far as audiences go. She will continue to share her stories as she did with the campaign, and will cover City Hall the same way – trying to find that human interest, as well as information that is necessary to know.

“When it’s a big talking point, I’ll tweet about it,” Chooljian said. “It gets the info out and engages new audiences. That is when Twitter becomes a new tool for us.”

Yet, the bottom line for all journalists, Chooljian says, is trust in your reporting from audiences, whether or not it is on social media.

“If they trust your reporting, they will trust your reporting however you give it to them.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, blogs on social media’s role in journalism for Net Worked, and serves as Community Coordinator for SPJ. Veeneman also is Deputy Editor, Media Editor and a writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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