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Tom Meagher


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Waking from an election results nightmare

Sometimes, especially after a particularly trying election night, it starts to feel like we may be suffering from post-polls PTSD.

For the past year and a half, we’ve been experimenting at The Star-Ledger with ways to improve how we report election results online and in print. In many elections, we’ll have hundreds of races spread across a dozen counties. And none of the officials overseeing those elections provides a useful electronic feed of results.

We’ve tried off-the-shelf products to input election data into tables with disastrous, near-comical results. Without a single developer in our newsroom, we’ve cobbled together solutions and written hundreds of lines of code to reverse engineer our hand-collected data and take it from our website into our print pagination system. For something that’s over in just a few hours, we invest an incredible amount of time and effort into getting it right, often without being really satisfied with the product.

All of that struggle has led us here, to our proposal for the Knight Foundation’s News Innovation Challenge for a project we’re calling VOTER.

VOTER is a browser-based program that will help organizations streamline the collection of election results and create embeddable online graphics that will work on any website, especially the common blogging platforms that power many news operations. It is still very early in the development process, but we’re excited about the News Challenge and even more psyched about the possibility that we can turn our trauma into something that will save newsrooms everywhere a whole lot of heartache.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your experiences, both good and bad, from the election nights you’ve covered. What’s worked for you to get results online and what hasn’t? Leave a comment here or tweet at me. And, most importantly, tell us what VOTER will need to do to make it useful for your organization.