Tuesday is Election Day, when many Americans will cast their vote and watch the returns. A national initiative called Electionland will be underway, watching the voters. KLCC's Brian Bull talked with one of the project coordinators, University of Oregon journalism professor Damian Radcliffe.
RADCLIFFE: Electionland is a coalition of different organizations, including ProPublica, Gannett Newspaper Group, NPR, and 13 different J-schools across country amongst others, who are all really interested in getting a sense of what is the experience like for people on Election Day. This is not about reporting on the outcome, this is more about how people are able to exercise their democratic right to be able to vote. And if they’re having issues or problems with that, we want to be able to identify and find those examples and explore that in more detail, journalistically.
BULL: And how many people are involved in this effort that you’re helping coordinate?
RADCLIFFE: So we have about 90 people here in the J-School. There are 500 journalism students across the 13 schools. And they’ll be monitoring social media, to try and find examples of issues that people are talking about and engaging in some simple and some more advanced verification techniques, to make sure that the kinds of stories that we’re seeing are legitimate, people aren’t trying to troll the media through their social feeds. And we’ll be sharing things that we think are of interest both on a Tumblr site that we’ll be running on the day, and also escalating it to a newsroom in New York, which is the hub for Electionland HQ.
BULL: That’s going to be a monumental task because there’s strong partisan passion out there. There are just enough people it seems who don’t mind twisting, bending or taking things out of context in order to help ensure that a certain candidate wins or loses.
RADCLIFFE: Yes, so this is a media literacy question. To what extent do you trust what you read, see, and hear? What are the kinds of questions I should be asking about the provenance of what I’m consuming? What are the basic checks that I can do to try and understand if there is a partisan agenda here --that’s fine -- but it might inform my judgment about whether I trust --or not -- the information that I’m being exposed to. And that’s a really important skill, that is not just applicable for journalists, everybody in this day and age need those kinds of skills.
What is so important about Electionland, is that it plays out against this context of having a major candidate who has openly said repeatedly over the course of the last two weeks that if I do not’ win, system is rigged. And it is specifically rigged against me. And yet there is a very strong evidence-base to say that many of the issues that have been talked, particularly in terms of voter fraud, dead people voting, so forth, some of those concerns are perhaps not as legitimate or the evidence base for it is not as strong as that candidate might suggest.
But that doesn’t matter to some extent to a large percentage of electorate. Just last week, USA Today said between 40-50% of people in the U.S. were concerned about the election being rigged or the system not being run in a fair or honest way. And see, that’s a huge percentage. So clearly there is legitimate fear and concern that’s may have been stoked a little bit by some of the debates and discussions that we’ve seen over the past few weeks, but we can’t ignore that that is a fear and perception that ordinary voters have, and we definitely need to be able to -- as journalists -- respond to that.
BULL: This is KLCC’s Brian Bull. I’m speaking with Damian Radcliffe, about Electionland.
RADCLIFFE: So ProPublica have [sic] a Tumblr, er, live blog, here from the J-School which we’re going to set up and launch and run on Tuesday, and that will tell the story about what’s going on in the West Coast. And it won’t just look at problems, I mean, I think that’s the important thing from my perspective. For a lot of people this will be a very positive experience. If you look at what’s happened in terms of early voting, there’s great footage that people have shared…a lot of people are very proud of the fact that they’ve been able to vote for a woman for president for the first time. Others are really delighted that they can vote for somebody’s who’s outside the D.C. system, and they’re able to vote for a candidate that presents a different point of view to many kind of traditional GOP nominees. For many people this will be the first time they’ll have voted, as well, particularly a lot of the students here across the University (of Oregon). That’s a monumental thing to be able to do in your life. So we want to capture the good and the bad as well as perhaps, the ugly.
BULL: Damian Radcliffe, thanks for your time.
RADCLIFFE: Thanks for having me.
BULL: U of O journalism professor Damian Radcliffe about the Electionland project. People can report problems with poll access or voter intimidation by texting “69866”.