On Tuesday, we tried something new for our live election coverage, a live chat. By the numbers, it was a rousing success, and most folks who participated seemed to enjoy themselves.
By our count, 705 different readers contributed 1,306 comments (not counting those made by me, the moderator). Earlier in the day, I told the Herald's editorial board that I would count it as a victory if 200 people showed up.
This is not the first time we've used live chat. We have had it for the hydroplane races in July and high school football since early September. But this was the first time we'd used it for a live news event.
The chat started out pretty well, with Executive Editor Ken Robertson, Managing Editor Rick Larson and I posting news and links to stories as the East Coast polls closed and results from important House and Senate races began to flow in. I was amused - and somewhat dismayed - by the few people who insisted we weren't doing our jobs because we didn't have local races updated at 5:30 p.m. - 2.5 hours before our polls closed and results would be available. When I replied in a mildly snarky way, one or two people took offense, though the majority were having a good time.
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The chat tool we used, CoverItLive, allows for scoreboards, polls and other fun things. The scoreboards are meant for sporting events, but I tweaked them a bit to make them work in the political arena. I also launched some polls, which seemed to be a hit.
When the polls closed here, the chat got really, really wild. Most were interested in a few results, primarily the Murray-Rossi race and the question of where the Benton County seat should be. So I focused on them, as well as Hastings-Clough, Klippert-Moser and Chilton-Oliver. I was quickly overwhelmed and knew I should not have tried to do this by myself because I wasn't able to get other results posted quickly enough.
So, I asked some people in the chat who I knew to be regulars on our site if they wouldn't mind going on the Secretary of State website to grab results of the statewide initiatives and reporting them for everybody else. They quickly obliged, and we immediately had a great example of the power of crowdsourcing, and a sense of community was heightened on the chat.
But I couldn't keep up with what became an overflow of information and action. Talk about fire hoses! Ultimately, I began to approve a few of the participants as unmoderated users, allowing their comments to post immediately without my actions. The vast majority liked this because it kept the conversation fresh and lively. A few didn't because they thought it caused the chat to turn into a bit of a party, and they weren't able to always get results they wanted.
The party went on and on and on, finally drawing to a close at 11 p.m., which let me head home.
Here are the lessons learned:
1. Staff better. I thought I could do this alone, so I didn't staff anyone else from Interactive Media. Next time, I'll have one person on the chat and one person on the results page.
2. Use the "scoreboard" function for more results. That seemed to be the biggest complaint.
3. CoverItLive's moderation panel doesn't work well on an iPad. Bummer.
4. Perhaps we should have two different chat windows: One for those who want to talk politics, and one that is strictly a feed of results. I guess that's not really a lesson learned ...
5. Most people seemed to like the concept and had fun with it. This makes me think we should have more live chats - and not just on election nights.