After spending 2016 trying to outmaneuver each other and deliver the next big break, hundreds of newsrooms are now engaged in unprecedented reporting partnerships to uncover barriers to voting and debunk fake news that can cause chaos and confusion on Election Day. The biggest of the new alliances is Electionland, a project involving more than 400 newsrooms across the country casting aside competitiveness to share real-time data and tips on everything from reports about long lines and voter intimidation to hoax tweets suggesting stuffed ballot boxes. New York-based journalism non-profit ProPublica created the free service earlier this year by partnering up with national desks at USA Today and The New York Times, as well as scores of local news organizations including the Arizona Republic, Miami Herald and the Virginian-Pilot. Participating reporters and editors are all connected to an online smorgasbord of story leads and sources culled from social media, text messages and a national telephone helpline that the public is using to report voting problems. “It’s an entire national newsroom, essentially only looking at problems facing people who vote,” said Jessica Huseman, a ProPublica senior reporting fellow.
While the Associated Press and CNN were among the major media outlets that declined invitations to join Electionland, it was a no-brainer for many local outlets crushed in recent years by layoffs and budget cuts. After all, what they’re getting is no-strings-attached data, technology and information that can go a long way to covering one of most challenging days of a journalist’s year.
“Any help a newsroom can get to sift through some of this stuff, to get to the more useful stuff, is absolutely valuable,” said Matt Dempsey, a Houston Chronicle data reporter leading his office’s coordination with Electionland.
Last week, Dempsey’s team published a front-page story based off multiple Electionland tips that led them to find poll workers in Harris County, Texas, giving voters incomplete instructions about photo identification. Other recent stories tied to Electionland’s analysis during the early voting period include Donald Trump supporters using a bullhorn outside the polls in West Palm Beach, Fla., and debunking a pair of internet hoaxes: one purporting to show video of Democrats stuffing ballot boxes and the other co-published with Univision that appears to show an immigration officer arresting someone waiting in line to vote.