Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Idea 006: using geo-data during elections

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on February 12, 2010

Apologies for the break in compiling Ideas for the Future of News. The hiatus is over! Over the next week, I’ll report on several other innovative, practical new concepts which could move journalism forward. To see previous ideas, check out the Ideas For The Future Of News page.

Idea 006: the MP candidate tracker

By: Jo Wadsworth, Steve Bustin, Sarah Marshall and others; Brighton Argus Newspaper

This idea, I am very happy to say, emerged at one of the new Future of News Meetup events which have sprung up across the UK since the first London event back in December.

The idea is pretty much as it says on the tin,  allowing web users to report and track the locations and activities of the various parliamenary candidates in the run up to the fiercely contested UK General Election in Spring 2010. According to

“The map allows Google account users to mark where they have seen candidates for the Brighton Pavilion constituency – Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Nancy Platts and the Conservative’s Charlotte Vere – and upload additional information about what they said.

“The MP candidate tracker page also displays tweets sent out by each candidate.”

This is a great example of new technology and lateral thinking being applied to really provide the public service journalism is all about. Although the project is in its infancy, you can imagine it having some influence, if voters are able to see which candidates have been sitting on their backsides during the campaign.

It is also a good example of the potential of crowdsourcing, and involving the public in newsgathering. Are there some issues around privacy and the accuracy of the information provided though?

The concept isn’t entirely new either. Radio stations have been using map mashups to plot traffic delays for at least 18 months; Viking FM in Hull used a map mashup to add colour to coverage of the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence in 2009.

A business model?

This idea’s real value is in its public service; enough hits and perhaps there are some advertising or sponsorship possibilities for the Brighton Argus, just as radio news has sponsors for its sport or weather bulletins.

And perhaps there’s a model to outsource this idea too. A company, perhaps, who specialise in geo-tagging and data mashups, who could then sell innovative packages to newspapers, magazines and other websites?

The General Election should really fuel innovative new ideas like this, as we saw in the US during the 2008 election campaign. Will journalists, broadcasters and papers live up to this challenge?

What do you think? And if you’ve got an innovative idea for the Future of News yourself, drop me a line!