Obama, the US Election, and the UK Newspapers

Obama and Clinton on the election trail

The dust has settled just over a week after a brutal US election and Barack Obama sits in the White House facing a host of problems for his second term. The Democrat commanded great support in the UK, and the election gave a chance for British journalism to show that it can reinvent itself time and again.

How do newspapers cover live events like the US election where votes are coming in every minute and Electoral College results will determine the election outcome?

The simple answer is, they can’t, well, at least not sufficiently. The role of the newspaper in today’s rolling elections is as the analyst, the commentator and the purveyor of predictions for the future term of the leader.

Many of the broadsheets did this extremely well. The Financial Times had excellent coverage of the elections after they happened, including a map of the states Obama and Romney had won. Analysis of why the Republican lost, what challenges Obama faces in the future and why the Democrat won was thorough as expected from the FT. The Times and the Telegraph also had in depth coverage of the election and similar issues.

The role of the newspapers in election was important, but more as the provider of analysis and commentary.

Does that not render the newspaper useless in covering live events? 

This is an easy argument to be persuaded by. After all, once a newspaper is printed, it is hardly “live” in any sense. The words are printed on paper and cannot be erased as events progress. But this is where newspapers use their online outlets, and this is integral to their survival in the future.

The Guardian, a pioneer in the field of data journalism, showed how the online platform can be used to great effect. Their live map which could be split into states and into smaller counties, was an expert display of how news organisations can keep up with live developments. Many of the other national papers including the Telegraph and the Daily Mail used similar mapping technology to compete.

Broadcasters have an obvious advantage, dispatching correspondents to the US to report live from the scene. But the coverage of the US election has shown that newspapers with their online counterparts still have a key role to play in live events. Anyone who devalues the role of the printed press in such occasions risks not getting a comprehensive report of the event. And in something as important as the US election, this would be a detrimental result.

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