If you’ve worked as a journalist and ever covered an election count with all the boredom and rushes of excitement and pandemonium it’s hard not to get the politics bug. Yesterday’s elections in Ireland have today provided some of the most interesting counts in years and then there’s the added ghoulish fascination with watching the Government parties take heavy hits.
I’m not working today, it’s been a while since I’ve been on the general news beat and so in line to get sent to a count centre but these days the Net provides so many ways to follow proceedings that you can have the information pretty much as soon as it’s felt on the count centre floor. It’s at times like these that the immediacy of the social web and the speed and ease that information can now be transmitted and received really come into their own.
I’m a big fan of Twitter. I’ve tweeted updates of trials I’ve followed in the past and have long been fascinated by the possibilities of the service as way of getting news. Twitter has hit the headlines in the past when news of major events has spread like wildfire through the community, beating conventional news outlets. The Mumbai attacks and the Hudson River plane crash were two cases in point and both garnered the site international press attention.
Today, watching the steady stream of chatter from Irish twitterers around the country, was like a virtual equivalent of covering a count. You’re hearing the chatter, the gossip and the early tallys as well as the comments and the jokes. Quite a different experience to watching the coverage on TV or listening to the radio. Of course it helps that Irish twitters are a media savvy lot and are passionate about what’s going on today. This election was always going to get people interested with Government approval ratings plummeting and job losses hitting record highs every month.
I watch a lot of media types and bloggers so a fair few were down in the count centres which added to the atmosphere but this really was a day when Twitter came into it’s own. These days Twitter is often my first port of call when I want to see how a story is developing, maybe it’s because it’s like having access to a wire service at home, but also because I know I can shout out a question and chances are someone will come back with the answer quicker than I could find it through more conventional means. A day like today is absolutely ideal to see these strengths in action.
All over the country people were tweeting from count centres, giving updates often before they were available through the conventional media.
This is the first time I’ve monitored a story like this entirely online. I’ve been streaming Newstalk 106’s coverage which was excellent, and available after RTE radio had switched their attention to sport. They had live coverage from the RDS count centre (the main centre in Dublin) with reports from around the country at regular intervals. For a station with far smaller resources than RTE they really mobilised well and provided great coverage.
Irishelection.com also provided excellent coverage from the count centres with a live blog of election results which again rivalled the coverage provided by RTE. It’s great to see online news services providing such great coverage of something like this – it opens up so many possibilities.
In previous elections the only constant coverage would have been RTE television, which is always excellent but it’s only one view. Being able to follow so many different viewpoints gives a far rounder idea of what’s going on and if you’re slightly obsessive like me, it makes for a fascinating afternoon.
This election has been the first one that can truly be said to have been fought online. During the campaign candidate after candidate took a leaf out of Obama’s book and fought the fight through Twitter and Facebook. The list of Irish politicians on Twitter exploded with names like Joe Higgins, Ivana Bacik, Proinsias De Rossa and Eoin Ryan all seeking to woo the twitterverse. Many of them also courted the Facebook generation with hastily elected pages once the fight had begun.
It seems fitting that their success or demise should be so comprehensively examined in the same places they sought to kiss virtual babies and press virtual flesh. Certainly from now on the way elections are covered will never be the same. The traditional Irish media might have been wary of new fangled social networking in the past but it has finally come of age in Ireland. This election, new media arguably beat old media when it came to rapidly getting news out there. Irish election coverage was all the better for it.