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Making Sense of Election Coverage

Nov 10, 2014

One of the big winners in the 2014 midterm elections wasn't a politician, it was Fox News

Credit fox news

With huge Republican wins in the Senate and the House came big ratings for the Fox News Channel.

"It was a huge win for Fox News," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project. "They beat all of the other networks, NBC, ABC, CBS. CNN actually came in second place so CNN had a good night, too. And this is unusual. It used to be that cable news had a small audience and mainstream networks had a big audience because they usually reach more viewers. But, on this election night, Fox and CNN went wall-to-wall while the networks only did special break-ins and then a 10 o'clock report, so Fox won the night."

It should come as no surprise that Fox's big ratings night came on a big night for Republicans.

"It probably has everything to do with that," McBride explained. "In 2010, Fox won the night also, but they didn't win the coveted 25-54 (year-old) bracket. This year they won that as well, and Fox's fortunes rise and fall with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. S0, this was a big night for Republicans, it was a big night for Fox News and it means it's going to be a big couple of years for Fox News, as well."

For the rest of the media -- in particular print -- faster vote counts are changing the way they do business on election night.

"It used to be in a newspaper newsroom the pizza would arrive around six o'clock and you really didn't get humping until until about 8:30 p.m. Nowadays, the pizza arrives around five o'clock and as soon as the polls close at seven, you are producing stories  and most of the results are counted by around 8:30 or nine 0'clock. So it's over by 10 o'clock at night in most cases. When you have a close race that's obviously different," said McBride.

"The difference is that in the morning it used to be in newspaper newsrooms, nobody was there the next day. Nowadays you've got to get back in at six o'clock in the morning and start producing those second day stories so you can get the online traffic at eight o'clock in the morning and nine o'clock in the morning which is the tradition spike."

Social media is now in play during election coverage, too. One of the most interesting social media tactics in the 2014 midterms came from Facebook.

"They showed some people an "I Voted" button and they let people post this to their page. Other people they showed the "I Voted" button but they wouldn't let them share it with all their friends," McBride explained. "It turns out that where they let people post the "I Voted" button to their page there was a direct correlation with the number of people who actually voted with an upswing in votes"