Why The New York Times, Washington Post called the election late

The New York Times

NBC called the election at 11:14 p.m. ET Tuesday night. The magnificently cautious Associated Press waited until 11:38 p.m. So why didn't The New York Times sign off on another four years of Barack Obama until 12:03 a.m. Wednesday, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan asks.

Unlike the television networks, which depend on their combined exit polls in calling elections, The Times prefers to look at real numbers in addition to exit polls, said Janet Elder, an associate managing editor who is part of The Times’s election “decision desk.”

“We have been disciplined” she said, “and it has paid off.”

Leonard Downie Jr. ran the Washington Post's election night decision desk, which made its call at 12:06 a.m. "We don't 'project' a winner the way the networks do," Downie writes in an email to Poynter. "We are reporting who actually won, so we wait to make sure that's the case. Last night, we called it when we were certain the winner had more than 270 electoral votes."

Like the Times, the Post's Web headline attributed Obama's victory to TV networks at first. Once the paper was comfortable Colorado, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Nevada had gone blue, Downie writes, it flipped the switch.

More election-news housekeeping:

• Nielsen counted 66.8 million viewers between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., compared with 71.5 million in 2008.

• CNN.com had 23 million unique visitors during the election, according to a network email. NPR Arts Editor Trey Graham tweeted Wednesday that NPR.org had "Six times the average weekly peak number of concurrent users."

• Charlie Warzel spent election night watching people in BuzzFeed's newsroom work.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com 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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