By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Previously: Lessons from the US election coverage
The overwhelming use of technology, with an amount of showmanship, was a trademark of the US TV networks’ coverage of the 2012 polls.
Veering away from its “hologram effect” in 2008, CNN lighted up the top of New York City’s Empire State Building in red and blue depending on which states went to Pres. Barack Obama or his challenger Mitt Romney.
NBC turned the skating rink at the Rockefeller Center into a giant map of the United States and colored it real time according to the count.
That’s not to mention the graphics, touch screens, and number-crunches that were used on election night.
It is just another incarnation of the progress that began when the networks first counted votes with computers in 1960, and when someone on TV first thought of lighting up maps into blue and red states to illustrate those results.
The US media also thought outside the box with interactive ways of enhancing the election night experience through the Internet.
And both politicians and the media made greater use of another interactive means–social media–in feeling the pulse of voters.
Filipino viewers will be looking for some of these new technologies in the coming 2013, and more so, the 2016 elections.
Not left behind
While the networks are surely mum on which they might use here, the experience of the 2010 elections shows there will be some novelties in store.
“The US-based networks were the ones who got it first, and who got it right,” said Cheryl Favila, ABS-CBN News Production head. “Of course, if you belong to an Asian country, and find that presentation impressive, you’d like to get that technology also.”
But budgets predictably limit the quality of technology local networks acquire, Favila noted. The technology may be similar but the software is simpler compared to those used by US networks.
For instance, ABS-CBN was offered a virtual set like the one used by the BBC. Favila said they opted for augmented reality which they felt would be more reliable and helpful to the network’s news presentation.
“It’s not really keeping in step, but I would say we also don’t want to be left behind, even if our capability is only limited,” she said.
Superior or not, the technologies are merely riveting ways of packaging data into easily-digestible information for viewers.
Making sense of the figures was what impressed local observers.
“More than technology, the anchors and reporters showed depth of knowledge and expertise on politics,” said ANC news manager Francis Toral.
For ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs head Ging Reyes, a CNN anchor stood out.
“No one can work the magic wall like John King–his analysis of Electoral College votes and the path to 270 was both insightful and comprehensive,” she said.
John King is one of CNN’s long-time political correspondents. His “magic wall” repertoire included predictions and analysis of voting behavior by factors like ethnicity and party affiliation, all the way down to county level.
The figures were derived from exit polls and surveys, which so far are the best ways to bare why people cast their votes one way or another.
Without knowledge of election trends and profiles, no skillful operator of touch screens could do justice to the wealth of data literally at their fingertips.
“We hope to emulate this kind of mastery,” Reyes said.
Reyes added that visuals closer to real life would still be remembered more from this–or any other election.
“No lights at the Empire State Building can match the electrifying image of a triumphant President Obama emerging on stage in front of thousands of his supporters in Chicago–the red, white and blue confetti raining all over him and his family amid thunderous cheers,” she said.
“Those are the images viewers want to see.”
Elections 2012 was also said to be the most interactive yet.
ABS-CBN North America news bureau chief Nadia Trinidad, who last covered an election in 2007, said: “This was the first time that I’ve covered a political exercise where social media offered game-changing ways for candidates to engage with voters and for the public to express their opinions about the elections.”
As Twitter became another battleground for Obama and Romney, it became the quickest source for real-time feedback on the results.
News organizations also let viewers dabble with the possible election outcomes through web applications, see streaming video of major election locations, and browse through crowd-sourced election day photos.
The US election has now evolved from the centrality of the TV screen, with smart phones and tablets adding a personal dimension to election watch activities.
Interactive web apps will be the thing to watch out for in the 2013 Philippine elections, especially newer takes on mapping out voter and candidate profiles in the provinces.
Social media has already permeated media coverage here, and citizen journalism initiatives are frequent sources of information for crime-fighting and breaking news.
These programs like ABS-CBN’s “Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo” (BMPM) have also been instrumental in building voter awareness and encouraging Filipinos to get involved. In fact, BMPM was first rolled out as an election-related project.
With many first-time voters already on Facebook and Twitter, the stage is also set for traditional campaigns to branch out into cyberspace, just as what happened in the US.
The burden of sifting through the online noise will go to journalistic organizations also active on social media.
It remains to be seen if online campaigning will translate into real votes.
While “we ask, you tell us” and “you tell us, we’ll act” are the current models of social media use by news groups, the upcoming elections may bring innovations in collecting, presenting, and digesting crowd-sourced news and opinions.
As citizens gain a greater voice in elections with social media, the mainstream media has also been called to lay out a clearer voice.
The US elections have also seen a number of US newspapers endorse presidential candidates days before the November 6 vote.
In the Philippines, media orgs have stopped endorsing candidates after the 1969 elections, when ABS-CBN, The Manila Times, and Manila Chronicle endorsed Pres. Ferdinand Marcos and his running mate Fernando Lopez.
But in an online piece, journalism professor Luis V. Teodoro wrote that bringing back media endorsements could imbue the election with “some intelligence–and on the part of the media, some honesty.”
A media org’s endorsement, wrote Teodoro, “alerts the public on what to expect from its coverage and commentary.”
It can help the public assess how the organization covered the elections, and even other issues, he wrote.
Coming out with endorsements, for Teodoro, can prevent organizations with actual but hidden candidate preferences from “misleading” audiences with supposedly neutral reports and commentary.
Interestingly, no reported candidate endorsements in the US came from a television organization.
The Fox News Channel did not put out any endorsement, although most of its commentators were clearly for the Republican Party. In the end though, even its statistics projected a win for President Obama.
It is indeed much easier for newspapers to come out with endorsements. Television stations, with a need to reach wider audiences, tend to tread carefully in showing any hint of preference for people or issues.
After all, bias is a heavy issue with viewers, and it comes greatly to the fore during elections. Perceptions of bias hurt credibility, and in turn hurt trust and viewership.
Teodoro, however, suggested transparency as a remedy to that. And it has been the practice of most media outlets to lay out economic links with businesses in the news. But baring political connections may be something else.
For all the impressiveness of the US elections and its coverage, there are some points that need not apply here.
Still, one point repeatedly comes up as THE feature of the US polls Filipinos could strive for–maturity.
Amid word wars, the at-times rash calling of winners, and a seemingly too-exclusive party system, Philippine observers noted the high level of confidence Americans place in a system that has proved in their experience to work.
“Definitely, the US has a more mature media, a more mature electorate, and even more mature politicians,” said ANC’s Francis Toral.
By employing technology, good storytelling, and some openness to raise awareness and move people to action, the local media could be a catalyst to that maturity, even in the run-up election day.
- The Pinoy media and the US elections (pinoyjourn.wordpress.com)
- Halalan 2013: Media lessons from the US elections (pinoyjourn.wordpress.com)