Electionland: How J-students can help uncover voter fraud and intimidation on Election Day

Story by Damian Radcliffe, image courtesy of ProPublica

Last month ProPublica announced the launch of Electionland, a project that will “cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election.”

The initiative is being led by a coalition of newsrooms, J-schools and technology companies, including Google News Lab, The First Draft Coalition, The WNYC Data News Team, Univision, Gannett and the USA TODAY network, all of which will be working with a live newsroom in midtown Manhattan on Election Day hosted by the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism.

The UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) is one of the 13 J-schools participating in the program, along with the University of Alabama, Arizona State University, Columbia University, CUNY, University of Florida, University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, University of Memphis, University of Missouri, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ohio University and Texas State University.

What J-schools will be doing

On Nov. 8, each school will operate its own special Election Day newsroom, where students will search social media across the nation to find, explore, verify and highlight potential issues related to voting problems. The types of issues they might uncover include long lines, broken machines, possible intimidation at polling stations and accusations of voter fraud.

Participating student will get to be part of a national newsgathering operation taking place during one of the mostly hotly contested elections in history. They will use state-of-the-art media tools, such as Slack, Facebook Signal, Google Trends and Dataminr to monitor key words, locations and influencers. They will then feed the social media-sourced tips they uncover to the master Electionland newsroom at CUNY, where experienced editors and social media specialists will determine if the leads merit further exploration and, if so, who is best placed to chase them down.

The SOJC’s part

Over the weekend, I flew to Philadelphia to meet with representatives from ProPublica, First Draft, Facebook, Google, Dataminr, Check Media and the project leads from the other 12 J-schools participating in this program to talk about the project aims and workflow.

Each J-school will be responsible for monitoring a number of states. As a West Coast school, the SOJC is assigned to report on Election Day activity in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. We’ll be doing this from a special Election Day newsroom set up in Allen Hall Room 314.

In addition to escalating potential issues of concern, we’ll also use the day to tell the wider story of what’s happening on Election Day on the West Coast by exploring reactions and discussions on social and traditional media. We’ll do this through a dedicated website that will feature the best and most interesting content we find during the day as well as commentary and analysis from SOJC classes and newsroom participants.

How students can get involved

We need a minimum of 12 students to man the newsroom at any one time throughout the day. The newsroom will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., so we will need to staff two 7-hour shifts or four 3 ½-hour shifts — or even a full 14-hour stint, if anyone is up for that! (I’ll provide snacks!)

That means there’s opportunities for around 25 students to participate in this one-off project.

Each student will be expected to undertake one or more shifts to cover the day. Before Election Day, you will also need to attend a 90- to 120-minute training session where you’ll get training on some of the key tools we’ll be using.

What will you get out of it? By volunteering for this project, you will get the chance to report live on what’s happening during this historic Election Day! For budding journalists and communication professionals, this is a great opportunity to learn new skills while making a difference and participating in a project that has never been done before.

To find out more, come to Allen Hall 307 on Thursday, Oct. 6, 6-7 p.m. There will be pizza! You can also email me at damianr@uoregon.edu or visit me in Allen Hall 221.

Damian Radcliffe is the SOJC’s Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism; a fellow of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University; an honorary research fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture Studies; and a fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). He is an experienced digital analyst, consultant, journalist and researcher who has worked in editorial, research, teaching and policy positions for the past two decades in the UK, Middle East and United States. He is also a regular contributor to the BBC Academy, CBS Interactive (ZDNet), Huffington Post, MediaShift and TheMediaBriefing, where he writes about digital trends, social media, technology, the business of media and the evolution of journalism.