Naturally, I sought to oblige. The students and I quickly considered how they could best interact with voters at polling places at or near Marquette University: Live tweeting. Exit polling. Multimedia reporting. Live blogging. Two factors led us toward the last option. First, Alec Brooks, another junior journalism major, explained how The Marquette Tribune – he is the student newspaper's copy chief – had begun to experiment with live blogging. Second, I know that many journalism educators and media companies use the technique in their classes and newsrooms.
Deciding what to do was easy. Executing the first #loweclass live-blogging experience would be a challenge. (Making things even more interesting: the 10 students in my journalism seminar on sports journalism, which also meets for 75 minutes each Tuesday, would participate, too.) I figured if my students could live tweet a university president's inauguration with only a day's training, learning how to live blog on Election Day was doable. As luck would have it, I attended the national college media convention last week in Chicago – where Jill Van Wyke, an assistant journalism professor at Drake University, expertly taught an audience how to use CoveritLive, a leading live event publishing platform used by mainstream media, educators, bloggers and major brands worldwide.
I alerted the 15 students that they would use CoveritLive via Facebook on November 2. Two days later, we used Facebook again to let them pick which polling site to be at. The next day, Monday, less than 24 hours before the polls opened, I sent a long email that outlined the plan – they were all to live blog for at least 75 minutes from their respective site – offered instructions for the CoveritLive smartphone app and provided tips on the differences between live tweeting and live blogging. I also advised that a related blog post from Steve Buttry could be helpful. Also, they were told to use the hashtag #jelection, in addition to #loweclass, so that their work would be seen and appreciated alongside the many student journalists who were covering Election Day nationwide.
As expected, given the nail-biting presidential election and U.S. senate campaign in Wisconsin, voter turnout was high. Two students – Ashley De La Torre and Ryan Ellerbusch of #loweclass #sports – started the live blogging when they reported at 6 a.m. to Alumni Memorial Union on campus. That polling place turned out to be especially busy throughout the day, and De La Torre and Ellerbusch proved crucial in helping us all figure out CoveritLive.
By and large, the students seemed to appreciate doing journalism on Election Day. As for live blogging and CoveritLive, the reviews were mixed, with some saying, for example, they liked not being restricted to 140 characters (as with Twitter) and that the experience allowed them to focus more on reporting. Others, however, did not think it was an appropriate assignment for a sports class or know what to do when they had finished live blogging. This was all very good feedback for the next #loweclass live-blogging experience.
From my perspective, I enjoyed how live blogging enabled me to interact with my students as they interacted with real people. More importantly, the experience showed where some of the journalism majors were in terms of their reporting skills. The biggest thing is that several of them were hesitant or seemingly afraid to talk with people they didn't know – an essential part of Election Day reporting for journalists. As veteran live tweeters, they are comfortable sharing short quotes from speakers or offering observations about what they see or hear. Live blogging can help them better realize the value of reporting and telling stories in a breaking news format.
It was all worthwhile, though, when the students learned how to get voters to answer their questions. As senior journalism major Michael LoCicero put it in his blog post, "Many people are turned off immediately if you ask for something private like their voting preference, but many people were happy to talk about having the chance to express their views." It's always great when students learn something – even when they don't always want to.