How news orgs plan to avoid bad calls on election night

The New York Times | Jim Romenesko | The Wall Street Journal

Network executives all "cited the journalism chestnut that it’s better to be right than first" when Brian Stelter asked them about their plans for calling races Tuesday night.

“It’s always lovely when the two coincide,” said [Ingrid] Ciprian-Matthews of CBS, “but everybody here is absolutely on the same page: accuracy comes first.”

Stelter runs through some of this year's greatest hits of media goofery: NBC's George Zimmerman 911 call tapes. CNN and Fox reporting the Supreme Court struck down Obamacare. ABC speculating the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting was a member of the tea party. The Great Stock Exchange Flood.

Not gonna happen this time, say the honchos. "At NBC, for instance, the statisticians at the 'decision desk' that makes projections 'are literally sealed off from the rest of us,' said Mark Lukasiewicz, the senior vice president of specials for NBC News," Stelter reports. “In a close contest, we’ll simply wait,” CNN D.C. bureau chief Sam Feist tells him.

The Associated Press sent a memo to reporters reminding them not to tweet out election results from other orgs.

If we tweet another organization’s call, we may imply that we endorse the other organization’s decision. At worst, we may deceive the public by spreading bad information.

Wall Street Journal "Numbers Guy" Carl Bialik digs in on exit polling done by the National Election Pool, a consortium funded by networks and the AP. (Other news organizations can subscribe to the NEP.) The growing popularity of early voting means race-callers will have to weight in-person interviews against the percentage of voters who've exercised their franchise early. And who've decided to talk to an interviewer: "Not everyone agrees to talk to the exit pollster at the polling place," former network state-caller Christopher H. Achen told Bialik.

In a blog post accompanying the column, AP news editor David Pace tells Bialik that while the co-op uses National Election Pool data, "we also have our own systems that we use.”

And how! In the AP's own explainer of how it plans to make the right calls Tuesday night, AP director of vote tabulation Don Rehill walks through the service's funnel of accuracy, from county officials to stringers to Vote Entry Centers to a "rigorous system of vote checks and parameters."

In this year's election, The Washington Post's Jon Cohen and Scott Clement report, the National Election Pool will skip polling in 19 states, none of which anyone projects will be tossups. Still, the decision "will almost certainly limit post-election research for years to come," they write. "Some precincts from these states will, however, be included in a broader national exit survey, so that voters in these states will be represented," Marjorie Connelly reported. "The National Election Pool has increased the number of precincts sampled in the national survey to 350 this year from 300 in 2008."

Related: 6 social media mistakes to avoid this Election Day: Don't fall for fake Twitter accounts, help spread bogus photos | The Wall Street Journal's website will lift its paywall on election night (Sree Sreenivasan, Twitter) | Learn about covering polls, religion, and more (NewsU)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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