8 things we learned covering #GE2015 for Ampp3d & UsVsTh3m
Last month I gave a short talk at Hacks/Hackers London about covering the 2015 General Election with Ampp3d and UsVsTh3m. Here are 8 things we learned.
1. We don’t have much useful digital “prior art”
It is possible this is true for all organisations, but at Mirror Online I don’t think there was a single person in the digital editorial team who had been around and in a similar role when they covered the previous election.
In the last five years television technology has moved on a bit, radio and print maybe not so much. Digital has changed a lot though. For example, loads of people built their zoomable election maps in Flash last time out – it’s now a dead technology.
In the 2010 election there was no Snapchat. WhatsApp was a few months old, and so was the iPad. The idea of your primary use case being the mobile version would have been ludicrous.
But there we were.
2. You need to know your USP
You are probably not the BBC or Sky News. And during election night, that is what all the political wonks will be watching.
So, what is your USP?
For the Mirror it was making sure that we had as many short sharp break-out stories as possible during the night. Hammer them out, get them up, go back and refine them as the story developed. This is one that started as 150 inadequate words from me as soon as it happened, and then eventually turned into a decent article.
Secondly we decided to cater for the people in our regular audience who wouldn’t stay up all night watching the results unfold. So we prepared a slew of content for the morning crowd along the lines of “Who won the election?” and “What did I miss?”
3. You really can plan “breaking news”
…and “breaking satire”. Will all the polls suggesting the game was up we had “Nigel Farage loses South Thanet: 13 jobs he can do now he won’t be an MP” live the second the declaration was made.
But the content was easily re-purposed. If it had begun to emerge he would win, we had an alternative version using exactly the same run of pictures, but a different set of captions, in the can.
Ampp3d, on the other hand, as the [to my knowledge] world’s only data journalism team where all the full-time staff were women, tried to keep track of the exact moment that we hit a new threshold for equality in Parliament.
4. BORING but people actually read it
Yeah I know. At one point I tried to ban our team from doing this. When you see the Guardian, Telegraph and Independent all doing “A man sneezed and here is how Twitter reacted” stories you know the gig is up.
But, they are lazy, easy to throw together, and still do traffic. I at least tried to add my own gags into the text rather than just string a load of tweets together.
5. You can go with a story too early
At about 6:30am I was simultaneously running two live blogs about the speculation around either Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg resigning. Nick’s speech had heavily hinted he would, and Kevin Maguire had written a blistering piece calling on Ed to resign.
We’d just spent the last six weeks telling people to make Ed the PM, so it felt particularly brutal and off-key to be putting the boot in.
I’d basically started them as an SEO land-grab, but by about 7:30am they didn’t have any traction with traffic, so we killed them and redirected them back to the main blog.
Of course, by 8:30am, all anyone could talk about was the impending resignations…
6. Your key question: WHO will share this and WHY?
If you are aiming for something to be widely read and share, your key question is always “WHO will share this and WHY?”
So we had some content ideas all primed to go in the morning.
I knew, from having been out on the election trail with them, that there were Ukip activists who genuinely thought the party was going to break through and get 25-to-40 MPs. And I also figured that in the morning they would be angry about the result.
It’s the most pro-Ukip thing you’ll ever see my byline on for sure, but it was specifically written for angry Ukip supporters to Tweet and Facebook out in the morning.
And then we basically re-tooled exactly the same article for nice Green voters to feel nice about how they voted Green and that the system just isn’t so nice to them.
We also had this, basically a story for anybody clutching straws after the exit poll. It really neatly encapsulates the tension between doing precision data journalism, and doing stories that people want to read.
YouGov’s numbers were much more optimistic about the Labour Party’s performance, so at 10:45 we did a piece about how a different “Exit Poll” maybe had better news.
The Ampp3d Twitter account was immediately berated – this wasn’t an “Exit Poll”, it was a “re-contact survey with a smaller sample size.”
But the audience didn’t care much for that nuance – which we did our best to explain in the copy. “Exit poll” was a big search term, and this was one of the better performing articles the Mirror had in the first couple of hours after the polls closed.
7. Nick Clegg can’t keep any damn promise
I worked from 6pm until 11am and left the office knowing that Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were all due to resign.
I had the traditional breakfast of an over-night shifter – a pint of beer.
As I sat there, Nigel Farage started resigning, and I tweeted out that I was having a beer, and that is what he would have wanted. Probably not a foreign one, but y’know.
Then I glanced at my phone, and realised Nick Clegg had started resigning earlier than expected, the team were now short-staffed with the overnighters having fled, and I had to leave half-a-pint and dash back upstairs…
*shakes fist at Nick*
[I should note that whenever Ampp3d published a joke graph like this some smart-arse would point out that it was statistically inaccurate because if the bar on the right really represented “FUCK ALL” then there would be no red bar. But then the joke doesn’t work visually, because you’d have to label the axis “FUCK ALL” and it wouldn’t be clear what the “FUCK ALL” applied to, and I’ve got to be 100% honest, I will genuinely NOT miss people correcting jokes because they literally missed the point.]
A big thanks to the Hacks/Hackers London team for having me speak again. They put in a lot of unpaid effort to put on brilliant events in increasingly spectacular venues.
And an even bigger thank you to my team. Working with UsVsTh3m, Ampp3d and Row Zed over the last couple of years has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had at work, and I love them like family.