With over a year of electioneering and politicking finally behind us and most everyone either finally getting over their collective schadenfreude or misery with the outcome, it’s time to ask the hard question: who covered it best.
For the national media, presidential elections are that incredible combination of high stakes, attention and opportunity, with everyone vying for everyone else’s attention while also, oh right, actually informing the people who’ll be headed to the polls. For most normal people, it’s mostly spectacle and something to look forward to being done with. For media observers, watching how the election gets covered, the changes between cycles, the new features, the dumb gimmicks is almost as exciting as the election itself.
This year was my first election spent outside of a newsroom in over a decade. Besides being free to tweet my political preference, I found myself missing the hum (if not the stress and sleep deprivation) of a big election scrum. And I also reverted to old habits of checking how every major news org was handling the story of 2012, not as a competitor but a fascinated observer.
And I have to say, The New York Times absolutely owned the coverage online.
The day after the election, Twitter and cable news pundit-land were all about how the Republicans managed to completely miss all the signs, with a subthread of that story being how numbers wiz and eater-of-polls Nate Silver managed to bat a thousand. That #natesilverfacts and Drunk Nate Silver were trending is surely a validation for measured and reasoned analysis.
While Silver was accounting for, by some estimates, over half of the Times’ web traffic in the days leading up to November 6, that’s only part of the Times’ impressive arsenal. The graphics desk was constantly and consistently putting together some of the most innovative and interesting work of any election I’ve ever seen.
Take the Paths to the White House visualization. The challenge was to show the various ways each candidate could ultimately win, based on which combination of swing states they carried. The math seems simple at first but actually gets pretty complicated, pretty quickly, with 512 different scenarios (including 5 that end in a tie, for all you Electoral College haters out there). They were able to inform and enlighten, without just resorting to yet-another map, with a very technically sophisticated graphic that even works on mobile.
Even after the election was over, they followed up with an impressive look at how the electorate had changed since 2008, with a pretty cool map and more traditional but just-as-illuminating infographic.
The Times has assembled one of the finest graphics desks in the country, full of not just designers but programmers, database engineers, photo and videographers. None of their competitors even came close to their depth and breadth of coverage and The Times even encroached on some new turf: more than once, they were first to have full encodes of the debates, before any of the major cable or national television stations, and then followed them up with annotated, fact-checked interactive replays. It’s a massive investment in talent that is clearly paying off.
Who do you think had stellar election coverage? Were there any local outlets doing outstanding work that may have missed the media spotlight? Was Karl Rove’s meltdown on FOX News actually brilliant television? Speak up in the comments.
Jim spent a decade in online news before Mule. He occasionally writes about the intersection of media, design, and code as a media outsider now.