Electionland is a New Standard For Journalism Education

Graduate journalism students interview ProPublica’s Derek Willis on Facebook Live on election day at Electionland HQ.

A coalition of 1,100 people stood watch over the 2016 election to track and and report on voting problems across the United States as a part of ProPublica’s Electionland project. The majority were journalism students working remotely from 14 universities across the United States.

They were recruited to play a key role in Electionland: the digital boots on the ground.

Electionland tracked and reported on voting problems across the U.S. with a collaboration that relied on social media discovery and verification by students, trend identification by journalism professionals, and reporting by a national news desk staffed by reporters from WNYC, Univision, USA Today Network, The New York Times, and local news organizations from every state and the District of Columbia.

The Electionland process could not have functioned without the students feeding the national news desk their findings. In return, these students received a hands-on introduction to the future of news and reporting. In partnership with First Draft News, a coalition of partners that provide newsgathering and verification resources for journalists, Electionland provided training in social media discovery and verification.

Where 20th century reporters monitored police radios and prayed for news tips, these students sat at a desks across the country, listening and engaging in conversations with local communities alongside the platforms that brought so much disruption to the industry.

The students who participated in Electionland can dig through Twitter to identify what hashtags communities are using to engage around a topic. They can verify the authenticity of Instagram photos through a little knowledge of photography, researching, and Google Maps. Students can identify trends by tracking links as they travel across social platforms; listening to public conversations in particular locations; and monitor keywords.

Electionland is an ideal that journalism schools should reach towards when developing curriculums based on hands-on skill development in real world environments.

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