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November's Innovator of the Month: The Daily Telegram's election results tracker

Thursday, December 29, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: David Arkin
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Winner: Erik Gable
Paper: The Daily Telegram (Adrian, Mich.)
Position: Special Projects Editor
Why his paper won:
The Daily Telegram created an innovative method to track election results.

1. What prompted you to create this innovation?

Every election night, we track election results as they trickle in from each precinct, but in a small newsroom, actually delivering that data to readers in a timely way can be daunting. By the time we take the latest information from our internal spreadsheets, manually type it into our content management system and go through all the steps involved in publication, the totals are already out of date. Using Google Docs for our internal spreadsheet and feeding the data straight into our website allowed us to bypass several steps and get the latest results to our readers almost as soon as we had them.
2. What were the steps in creating it?

I've posted a detailed description of the process here. The short version is:
First, get your spreadsheet set up. Then create a section of the document where the data is displayed exactly the way you want it to be published online, using the appropriate formulas to make your calculations for you. Create a new gadget based on your data, then grab the embed code and paste it into your website.
3. How did you introduce or promote it to your audience?
This was a very spur-of-the-moment project, so the only real promotion came in the form of Facebook and Twitter posts telling people we were trying something new. And, of course, everyone who visited our homepage that afternoon or evening saw that there was something unusual in the right rail.
4. Any results thus far?

I don't think we received any reader comments on it.  But it worked as planned, and it certainly was nice to be able to duplicate the kind of minute-to-minute tallying and tracking that we've all been watching TV stations with much bigger budgets do for years.
5. What would you recommend to other media wanting to do a similar project?

Make sure readers know that they will have to manually refresh the whole page in order to update the data. Also, expect to spend some time tinkering with the spreadsheet layout and the gadget configuration in order to make the display look the way you want it to.

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