5 election coverage tips from the Financial Times

May 7, 2015
Category: Uncategorized
Photo courtesy of the Financial Times

Photo courtesy of the Financial Times


The UK votes today in a nail-biting general election, with the two largest parties neck-and-neck in the opinion polls.

With much speculation about the structure of the next government, the following questions have come up in our newsroom during the campaign:

  • As a trusted voice, how can we cut through the noise for our readers?
  • How can we deliver our journalism in a way that reaches our existing readers as well as new audiences?

Here are some steps we have taken to deliver news and views, as well as listen to our audiences. No matter the size of your newsroom, I hope this framework will be helpful when thinking about covering elections.

Provide context and be a clear voice

The FT is using social media to be a helpful voice. When political leaders took part in a TV debate, we tweeted charts on topics that they were discussing, such as immigration. This provided context and allowed us to be a constructive part of the conversation.

We didn’t prepare the charts on the spot: our graphics team had made them for earlier stories. We knew in advance that immigration was one of four topics to be debated by the party leaders, and we interjected with well-researched, unbiased information as the conversation bubbled on Twitter. With these charts, the Twitter community could reach its own conclusions about the comments made in the debate.

We used Twitter’s ‘trending’ data to confirm that some of our audience was following the debate. We could also see that our active audience increased significantly during the event. As Maija Palmer, our social media journalist who sent the tweets, says: “We had a really clear indication that people were second-screening, watching the debate and using Twitter to see a reaction.

“The trick for us was that with the seven party leaders each answering the questions we had plenty of time to extract a chart and tweet it while people were still discussing the topic on Twitter.”

The tweets were widely picked up and retweeted, with the help of the dedicated hashtag used for the debate. They helped act as a bridge to drive traffic from social media to our site. Consequently, 30% of the traffic on our live blog on the debate came from social media.

Be strategic with your paywall

Readers need a subscription to access most of the FT’s journalism. However, to help reach new audiences and promote our stories, we make an item or two free to read each day.

During the election campaign we have used ‘evergreen’, news-you-can-use journalism as our free-to-read items. It encourages readers to return and allows us to resurface our stories for new audiences. Our guides to the main political parties’ manifestos are free-to-read, as is a piece on jitters in the financial markets over the outcome of the vote. Some interviews with politicians are also outside the subscription barrier.

Examples of free to read items:

Use the election to experiment

We tapped Twitter’s recently launched Periscope app as part of our coverage. The FT ran focus groups in four marginal parliamentary constituencies and we filmed the events using it. More than 700 people watched live the most recent group.

Here’s one of the clips: “Which superheroes would the party leaders be?

By using Periscope, we could quickly capture the events on video and bring a ready community with us. Aliya Ram, a journalist who filmed some of the focus groups, says:

“It’s easy to start a broadcast on Periscope and the app therefore encourages an ad hoc, improvised style of filming. I like the behind-the scenes feel because it allows you to break down the veneer of edited broadcasts.

“The focus groups were exactly the kind of extended, discursive event that suits the form, because viewers are unlikely to want to watch the whole thing (on YouTube, say), but the back and forth of the discussion might have been lost with too much editing (for example, in a video package).”

Tell the story through images

FT photographer Charlie Bibby and illustrator Ingram Pinn have captured the election brilliantly and we have given some of their images to our journalists to use on social media. Our thinking? Social media posts with images are far more likely to be shared, and these photos and illustrations, originally used on our own site, enjoy a new life on social networks to promote our work.

Charlie has also filmed a series of videos on location looking at the big themes of the election, such as collapsing support for Labour in Scotland, after decades of dominating politics there. He collaborated with reporter Kiran Stacey and producer Nalini Sivathasan on the project.

Graphic courtesy of the Financial Times

Graphic courtesy of the Financial Times

Make data an anchor of your coverage
Our interactive team has built two dynamic graphics to inform our readers. One, using continuously-updated polling data fromElection Forecast, shows readers the projected result of the vote. More than a fifth of its traffic comes from social media, primarily Twitter.

The other is a coalition calculator that explains the possible compositions of the next government, based on the same continuously-updated projection data. This resource aims to help readers understand the dynamics of this atypical election where a one-party majority is not the expected outcome.

We feature the graphics on our homepage and promote them regularly on our social media channels.

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Related: Poynter will hold a free seminar on how to cover the Iowa Caucus in June