Election tool allows candidates to blog, debate on publication's website

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When it comes to gathering information from both sides of the election ballot, finding a candidate's perspective without a third-party filter can be a task fraught with difficulty for readers.

The Bulletin in Norwich, Conn., addressed this by creating a network of election blogs that allow General Assembly candidates to communicate directly with voters.

The project consists of 14 separate blogs for each of the contested legislative races in the Bulletin's readership area, all of which are identifiable by their senatorial districts (like this one). The candidates for each senatorial district race were invited to make these blogs their own by posting opinions, press releases, photos and even mini-debates in the space – all of which is open to public comments.

Raymond Hackett, Bulletin opinion page editor, said his newsroom was inspired to create the tool because there are 17 legislative races in their area, and only five reporters.

"We needed to do something to provide candidates with the coverage that they deserved and the readers with the information they needed to be informed," Hackett said. "We saw the blogs as an opportunity to share with readers 'the advantage' that we have as journalists – direct and daily contact with the candidate vying for their vote."

Twenty-two of the candidates accepted and are actively engaged in the blogging, while eight declined. Since the twenty-two began using the Bulletin blogs, there have been a range of topics covered in their posts, from "Get to Know Me" entries to opinion pieces on climate change marches and restraining orders.

In the first 23 days since its Sept. 1 launch, the landing page for all of Bulletin blogs was up in page view by a full 25 percent from the month prior. In the same amount of time, individual race pages from the blogs have received more than 4,000. After the elections' and blog project's conclusion in November, Bulletin editors plan to release a full breakdown of pageview analytics for the blogs.

To ensure the election tool reaches readers, the Bulletin has promoted it through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest social media accounts, as well as featured a race blog daily on the news site's carousel section.

This election tool is a great way to engage readers, and provides potential voters more information about the General Assembly candidates.

Hackett said that newsrooms hoping to create something similar should start early.

"There's a lot of hand holding to do," Hackett said. "And then once you get it up ... back off and let them use it the way it was intended."

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