Chris Essig

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

Archive for the ‘Iowa Caucus’ Category

The caucus night that almost didn’t end

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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 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 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:

Written by csessig

January 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm

The last four months

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Welcome back to my blog! I’ll get right into it: I worked at the Galesburg Register-Mail for about a year (see below) before becoming the online editor for I’m going to start recapping some of the work I’ve done while at the Courier. I’ll start by highlighting some of the sub-sites I’ve help create since starting here four months ago:

  • Caucus 2012 – Every newspaper in Iowa gets jazzed about the Iowa caucuses. This year they are even more relevant for us at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier because one of the GOP frontrunners, Michele Bachmann, was born in Waterloo. This page we set up back when I started in June uses templates found in our CMS (Blox). We put it together well before most of the nation needed or wanted to care about the caucuses.
  • On a Mission: Joplin Missouri – This was actually the first page I set up when I started. Our regional reporter traveled with a group of local volunteers to Joplin, Missouri after the area was ravished by a massive tornado is May. This page was set up to keep all of his stories and photos in one place.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – Remember when this movie premiere came out? It seems so long ago. Well, we put this page together back then to house our stories and other cool interactive quizzes and a character map provided by multimedia developers at other Lee Enterprise newspapers (namely STL Today and Billings Gazette). We also posted plenty of wire stories on the page as well.
  • Thunder in the Valley air show – One of the largest air shows Iowa has ever seen rolled into Waterloo earlier this summer. Our regional editor was writing stories months in advance, so we put up this page to help compile those stories as well as give the readers all the basic information on the event (ticket prices, etc.). The page was a huge hit and one of the videos we posted on it generated 1,700 hits, well above any other video we’ve posted on the site since I’ve been here.
  • Ames Straw Poll – With so much of our attention in July and August on Michele Bachmann on the Iowa caucuses, we needed to have something in place for the big test vote known as the Ames Straw Poll. I put this page together the morning of and updated it throughout the day that Saturday, finishing with full results and our story on Bachmann winning the poll.
  • Remember 911 – Like the rest of the nation, Iowans mourned on 9/11 during the tenth anniversary of the deadly, NYC terrorist attacks. We had several local stories running in the paper that Sunday. Online, we rolled out the stories every few hours all day. They linked our 911 page, which featured readers’ reactions and archive WCF Courier photos from 9/11/01.

Written by csessig

September 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm