Saturday, 8 May 2010
Well, what an election! For as unremarkable the campaigning may have been (except for Bigot-gate perhaps), the fallout has been both fascinating and gripping.
The uncertainty of a hung parliament meant a very intense period of continuous coverage for many radio journalists. 13 or 14 hour shifts seemed pretty common. I spotted one head of news mention a 36 hour run in a tweet!
So, congratulations to all my colleagues. I have to admit I felt pretty guilty sitting in front of the TV awaiting David Dimbleby last Thursday night although I did have a lap top by my side providing a commentary of sorts via Twitter.
All the talk was of an election defined by social media. I think this is true to a certain extent. Social media coverage was certainly one of the differences between this and other elections. It extended awareness of and enabled a live discussion of the big broadcast debates between the leaders.
Some journalists used Twitter as a reporting tool, giving a continuous narration to their stories. Not enough in my view. In my experience of training broadcast editors and reporters in using social media, many are still learning its benefits and potential and it may not be until the next election (perhaps sooner rather than later) that this will be more fully realised.
But if we widen the topics of social media to talk about interactivity on-line there were two impressive examples during the election.
Firstly, BBC Radio 5 live’s Election Story. This very clever tool on the 5 live website is still live at the time of writing. It enables you to search for election content on the station by key words e.g. crime, immigration or personalities or you can search by dates. Users can listen again to interviews and listener debates and read texts and emails etc sent to programmes.
It’s a user friendly and very good looking way to aggregate the best of what 5 live has had to offer during the election. Not only a good way for more people to use the content but an impressive introduction to the station for potential new listeners. Congratulations to Brett Spencer and his interactive team.
One of 5 live’s rivals, London’s LBC 97.3 also impressed me with its interactive coverage on-line. For example, there was the LBC Election Computer. This was a game in which the user answered questions to give opinions on issues and was told which party best matched her views. It was simple but a good fit for ‘London’s Biggest Conversation’ and I think it had a potential viral quality.
LBC also unveiled its interactive election map , again still live on-line at the time of writing this blog. Just click on an area of London to get all the voting facts and figures. It is really encouraging to see commercial radio investing in good quality on-line content like this.
Of course interactivity isn’t all about flashy gadgets on your website. It is also about quality debate and speaking to the people who really matter – your audience. Both BBC Radio 5 live and LBC got out of the studio during the campaign.
5 live’s audience debates around the UK gave listeners the chance to have their say. At least one of these was simulcast on the BBC News Channel. LBC had its battle bus with this year’s radio awards darling Nick Ferrari at its helm.
But LBC wasn’t the only London station to dust down a Routemaster and get out and about. In fact the idea is nothing new for my old station BBC London 94.9 which has broadcast from a converted bus for a number of years.
Here, Assistant Editor Gareth Roberts explained to me the thinking behind bus broadcasts for the election:
“We wanted to make it clear that we were covering a London election not just a Westminster one, so sent the "Battle for London Bus" out to 7 different far flung locations around the capital during the campaign. We spent the whole day, from 6am to 7pm broadcasting inserts from each of the locations giving our reporters the chance not only to interview the candidates but also spend time meeting local voters and campaign groups to get good stories on local issues. The Bus also worked well from a marketing point of view by making sure we were highly visible with plenty of branding and merchandise to hand out in busy areas, some of which we rarely go to. The exercise was also an election campaign for the radio station too.”
So, which London talk station would your vote go to? RAJAR figures for this period will be the judge I guess and with the drama beyond May 5 speech stations may have good reason to be optimistic.
I also want to mention BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat. It allowed young members of its audience to put their questions to the leaders and if those leaders thought this would be a breeze how wrong they would be.
This was an example of the importance of doing your research. Newsbeat found participants who not only had good, relevant questions but also a Paxman-esque bent – really pressing the leaders for answers. In fact one of the broadsheets acclaimed the interviews as the toughest suffered by the leaders during the campaign.
I have always encouraged news teams to be creative but Radio 1 provided a lesson that sometimes the most impactful news content can be the simple idea done brilliantly. It's worth remembering.
So, congratulations to all those mentioned above but what stations do you think did a good job of covering the election on-air or on-line? Please feel free to honour them below.
(Westminister pic by Adam Hickmott and courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)