Some cross border election advice

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place today, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November's elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place in a couple of weeks, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November’s elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

In a couple of weeks, in Iowa and New Hampshire, delegates from both the Democrats and the Republicans will begin the process that will formally confirm the nominees for both parties for the President of the United States, ahead of elections in November. That will culminate in July with both party conferences.

Along with the delegates will be plenty of reporters trying to make sense of this, what it means for specific candidates, and the whole of politics in the United States as a whole. Reporters will not only be looking after their specific platforms (be it print, web or broadcast) as well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks.

The feeling is similar to that of the Canadian election, which took place last October and began in August after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper approached the country’s governor general, David Johnston, to call for the election. That election saw Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party (and the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) be given a majority in the House of Commons, taking the party from third place in polls to the top office in Canadian politics, based on the narrative that Canadians were ready for change after nearly a decade of leadership.

But at the helm of coverage (and indeed Trudeau’s strategy) was social media, and it was essential the night of the vote. Jessica Murphy, a freelance journalist based in the country’s capital, Ottawa, was at Trudeau headquarters the night of the vote, covering it for the British newspaper The Guardian.

In a telephone interview, Murphy said Trudeau’s election was profound, and that his personalities had contrasted with that of Harper, and his personality showed on social media, especially Twitter and Instagram.

“Canadians have known Trudeau for years,” Murphy said. “He was always known as a public figure. Trudeau could harness social media and his energy to talk to more of the population.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Murphy said social media had grown between 2011 and 2015, the timespan of the recent elections in the country.

“Social media grew up,” Murphy said. “If you’re covering it you can see it was a part of their strategy. Candidates were rolling that into the overall election strategy instead of a side note. Social media is essential in today’s communications.”

Murphy had made plans the night before the vote, and was producing content from photos to contributions to The Guardian’s live blog, in addition to posts on social media, tracking the results of the ridings and calls. It leads to a piece of advice she could give to her American counterparts who will be covering the election process.

Murphy first suggests to take lots of photos, saying they work well on Twitter and get the feeling of the room. The other advice Murphy suggests is to look up from the phone, and get the feel of the room by talking to people. What people say would help describe the environment.

“[You’re doing] the necessary social work as a journalist but [it] ensures you’re doing work as a journalist,” Murphy said.

Ultimately, Murphy says, its down to balance, something most journalists are still trying to get use to considering the constant evolution of technology. She says social media can be overused or underused, and its about the balance of maintaining that presence as well as adding the color and extra content to describe the room that won’t make it on to the traditional platform.

“It’s great but it can be all consuming and the echochamber,” Murphy said. “You can’t have the nose in the phone. You need to look around — its just about remembering to do both. Its a matter of balance. We are all still learning.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Editor’s note: This post was amended at 11:22am CT to reflect an error in the dates of the caucuses. This was amended now due to a technical error preventing an amendment earlier today.

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