Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

The caucus night that almost didn’t end

leave a comment »

All eyes were on Iowa last night as the Iowa caucuses took place. It was pretty much the longest work day I’ve ever had…By alot. Anyways, we did a ton of updating on WCFCourier.com all day and night…I wish I had a screen shot of all the photos/stories we put on the front of our website.  I did take one at about 2:30 a.m., which is shown above. It’s the site after Romney was (finally) declared the winner. The template is now being used on our Iowa caucus website.

Here’s a quick summary of our online coverage: It started with a general Iowa caucus coverage, switched over to our live coverage from the UNI-Dome (which hosted the largest caucus in the state Tuesday night) and then to the statewide race between Santorum-Romney-Paul and, finally, the grudge match between Santorum and Romney. At 1:30 a.m., the Iowa GOP announced Romney had won by eight flippin’ votes. At one point, Santorum was leading by ONE vote with ONE precinct left. What are the odds?

My schedule on caucus night went something like this:

– 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. –  Preparing for the day / arranging plans with reporters /posting stories, photos and other content. We had caucus stories going up all day, obviously. I also posted and helped monitor a live chat, which was shared with other Iowa newspapers and was active all day, as well as posted live video from KCRG, which played from about 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. I opted to put both the live video and the live chat on the same page, making it easier for readers to follow action at home.

– 2:30 p.m. – 2:31 p.m. – Lunch

– 2:31 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – More preparing and posting. We also posted two maps with our coverage: one of live caucus results (which started coming in after the 7 p.m. caucus start). This map was provided by the Iowa Republican Party and is pictured to the left. You may have seen it on several news sites… Many had it or a variation of it.

The second map I made myself and featured caucus locations for all (I believe, although I haven’t counted) 1,700 caucus locations in the state of Iowa. The addresses were pulled from the Iowa GOP website, which listed every site. Basically, I wrote a Python program that scraped the data from their site and put it into a spreadsheet, pulled it into Google Fusion tables and mapped the locations based on their addresses. The Python scraper is based on this FANTASTIC walk-through by BuzzData on how to scrape data from websites. Check it out!

(NOTE: Here’s the code for the Python scraper. Here’s my Google Fusion Table.)

At about 3 p.m., we rolled over the site to feature one huge photo and story (see the screenshot at the top of this post). It was caucus night, after all,  so we had to go big.

– 4:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. – Mad dash to the UNI-Dome, where Black Hawk County was caucusing. The doors opened at 5:30 p.m. and I wanted to get there and set up before either Bachmann or Gingrich stopped by to speak.

– 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. – Posted up at the UNI-Dome. At about 5:30 p.m., we switched our main story to our Dome coverage…This was basically when our first photo and update came in. Throughout the evening, we posted small updates from the Dome and new photos. We also had three videos from the Dome.

At about 6:30 p.m., Bachmann and Gingrich spoke. I took a few photos for our live chat (which, BTW, had more than 5,000 viewers at one point!) and posted a fresh candidate Dome story when it came in.

At about 8:30 p.m., the Dome action was winding down and our attention turned to the statewide race between Santorum-Romney-Paul and then Santorum-Romney. We relied on the AP our Lee Des Moines bureau for our main story on the site, adding photos from the Dome and the wire with it.

– 10 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. – Mad dash back to the newsroom. I was actually afraid they might announce the winner while I was on the road back to the newsroom but I was off by about three hours.

– 10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. – We waited. And waited. And made some jokes. And waited some more. The precinct results continued to flood in and amazingly the number of votes between Romney and Santorum dwindled. Santorum was actually in the lead for much of the night. By 16 votes. Then one vote. Then four votes. Just ridiculous.

– 12:30 a.m. – 1:30 a.m. – At about this time, they announced they were down to three precincts then one precinct…At that point, I knew I would be in the newsroom until the final precinct was counted. The lone holdout was in Clinton County (eastern Iowa along the river) and apparently there was some confusion about whether or not they had submitted their results to the state yet.

– 1:30 a.m. – 2 a.m. – The Iowa GOP finally announces Romney won by eight (!!!) votes. Hurray! I slapped a quick update on top of story we had online and added a new photo. At this point, I just wanted to make sure those who got up in the morning would see the final results.

– 2 a.m. – 3 a.m. – The longest day ever came to a close. I took down the big photo, big story template we had used all night (see screenshot at the top) and returned the site back to our standard carousel template with five rotating stories on the front (see WCFCourier.com). I also added a teaser to our Iowa caucus site on the top so people see all of our caucus coverage from the night/morning. Because there was a ton of it.

– 3 a.m. – Sleep

Here’s what the Courier’s front page looked like on Wednesday. We’re a morning paper so we were able to get the final results in:

Advertisements

Written by csessig

January 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: