Covering elections on

Written by Adrian Holovaty on February 25, 2003

Some cool online journalism I've helped produce at the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World lately:

Live online chats with school-board candidates -- 11 of the 13 candidates agreed to chat with readers online, in real time, using my DHTML-driven chat software. Thanks to promotion from our local TV station and word of mouth, traffic (as measured by number of questions asked) increased steadily from chat to chat. I loved these chats for three reasons:

  1. Rawness. Readers were able to see for themselves how candidates responded and acted -- not seen through the eyes and ears of a newspaper reporter. Even the most unbiased reporter puts his or her mark on a story.
  2. Accessibility/convenience. Sure, there've been public candidate forums, but online chats let you interact with candidates from your own computer.
  3. Relative anonymity. We got a number of questions that Lawrence residents might not have been comfortable asking the candidates face-to-face -- and, hence, might otherwise have gone unanswered. Some might argue anonymity brings out the troublemakers, but that's what a moderator is for.

Also, we put together interactive "candidate selectors" for the city-commission race and school board race -- Click on the candidate quotes you agree with, and the script will tell you which candidates you agreed with the most. It's intended mostly as a guide, but it is, without a doubt, useful in that "hey, that really made me think about the candidates" sort of way. I decided to use quotes instead of straight "yes/no" or "agree/disagree" questions because, well, issues aren't always cut and dry.


Posted by Jason on February 25, 2003, at 9:18 p.m.:

Any plans to share the technology behind your chat software?

Posted by Adrian on February 25, 2003, at 9:55 p.m.:

Hey, Jason...No plans to share the chat software yet, because we *might* try to sell it.

Posted by Jason on February 26, 2003, at 1:55 a.m.:

Thanks Adrian -

I didn't think so, but no harm in asking...

Kudos to your site regardless for pointing out a number of issues that I was largely ignorant of prior to coming across a link to here at a few months ago. Keep up the good work.

Posted by kevin c smith on February 26, 2003, at 11:48 p.m.:

Speaking of troublemakers, did the moderators have any problems? Seems like the sort of venue that would bring the trolls out in force.

Posted by Adrian on February 27, 2003, at 12:29 a.m.:

Surprisingly, we had no major problems -- other than the one guy who was asking creationism questions under the handle of "J. H. Christ." :)

Posted by Gina on February 27, 2003, at 5:40 p.m.:

I love your candidate selector. It's a great, unintimidating way to engage readers in politics. One question, though. Why not list the candidate up front? I know you have them deeper, but as a reader I'd like to see their names at the beginning. Plus, it would be great to have more in-depth profiles of each. Though I know how labor-intensive that can be. Terrific idea overall!

Posted by kaye trammell on February 28, 2003, at 5:08 a.m.:

This idea of opening up new opportunities for candidates to interact with the voting public has really taken off.

Have you checked out ? I just read a piece in the American Political Science Association journal (PS: Political Science & Politics) by Lupia & Baird (2003) about this site. The data was from the 2000 election, but it talked about how this site allowed for a "rolling debate" between candidates where each day candidates were able to respond to a question from voters. One day they would talk about MP3 sharing & education the next -- good stuff.

You journalism types out there may be interested in other findings in this study. They found a 14% decline in the use of newspapers as the PRIMARY political info source (for users). Guess what increased exactly 14%? You got it! The Internet. Please - hold your applause until the end.

If anyone wants that article, e-mail me at & I'll get it to you.


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