Digital 'wins'

How to use Google Sheets as an Election Day collaboration tool

Great ideas (and Google Sheets) live forever! We found this post from the GateHouse Newsroom vaults that still rings true today for newsrooms looking to collaborate on their Election Day coverage.

Election Day is a notoriously chaotic and eventful day for newsrooms, especially for journalists working overnight shifts as polling results trickle in. Staying organized and efficient after caffeine has run its course and election updates are coming in from all directions is a challenge familiar to newsrooms across the country. To combat this, one GateHouse online editor turned to Google Sheets to keep numbers organized in a large collaborative effort with newsrooms across the region.

Ken Johnson, Patriot Ledger online editor, said he can remember a time when the Ledger relied on reporters tracking down results and calling them in, as well as having to bring extra help into the newsrooms to organize the charts that were done by hand and posted on windows and walls around the newsroom.

Now, their election data collection looks very different: a flow chart with links to multiple spreadsheets that each track separate races and results, all of which is generated by a master spreadsheet which they input the raw data into.

2014 election

Johnson and another now-departed editor have set up the spreadsheets for Election Day for numerous years, but just recently discovered what Johnson called a “break-through” that allowed them to link from one document to another. In past years, the Patriot Ledger and sister publication Enterprise swapped results with other regional publications Cape Cod Times and New Bedford Standard-Times through phone and email, and then manually entering those numbers into Johnson’s document. This year, each collaborating newsroom was able to use the newfound function to remotely enter their own numbers into the master document, which then spit out the numbers on to corresponding documents that each newsroom could refer to as needed.

Johnson said that while the process started out as a way to get results for print using diminished resources, it also quickly became obvious that the spreadsheets would enable them to get results up online immediately. They were able to write up a story ahead of time and embed the chart, like the one here, and then schedule it to post right after the polls close. As soon as the results came in, reporters could post the story because the results had already been punched in through the master spreadsheet and appeared in the corresponding embedded sheet.

2014 election 2In addition to the results spreadsheets they embedded in their online election coverage, the Ledger and Enterprise also posted multiple Election Day photo galleries. Johnson said his favorite addition to their Election Day coverage this time around was their discovery of, which allowed them to create maps of how each town voted. These maps were also posted to their sites.

“Apart from some serious CMS slowness, things went pretty well. We thrive on chaos,” Johnson said. “Like a lot of our papers, we have a dedicated bunch of reporters and editors. My advice to other newsrooms is, if we can do this anyone can.”

For more of The Enterprise and The Patriot Ledger’s Election Day innovative coverage, visit their “Tuesday at a glance” page here.


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