On December 19th, Patrick Ruffini of techPresident asked his readers, "Can the Internet do a better job at covering election night than the media?" He proposed an experiment in election coverage:
"If you're caucusing in Iowa on January 3rd, sign up for Twitter, make sure you have the mobile feature turned on for the night, and send a Twitter a text message with your caucus location and the results in 140 characters or less. If possible, please send your message from inside the caucus location as the vote totals are being announced. Make sure your tweet contains the word 'caucus' or is prefixed @IowaCaucus so we'll pick it up at the account we have designated for this purpose. We'll be tabulating the results and providing a real-time tally of our totals in the Republican and Democratic Caucuses."
How did this social-media fueled attempt at grassroots coverage go? In a follow-up post, Ruffini declares it an unqualified success:
"Very shortly after 7 p.m. central time, all the reports were pointing in a single direction: a big night for Barack Obama. This led me to post at 7:20 p.m. that the trendlines were for Obama, long before the media caught on. Though I figured most of these tweets came from urban and university precincts, the 2- and 3-to-1 advantages I was seeing consistently were clearly enough to overcome even a mighty Clinton and Edwards surge in more rural parts of the state. To see how the evening unfolded, check out our 70+ updates right here."
As with the California wildfires, we see that a lot of people on the ground with mobile Twitter access can be a fantastic resource for up-to-the-minute coverage of events as they unfold. Assuming Twitter isn't down.
Here and now I will make A BOLD PREDICTION. By election night this November, a major news organization will have set its reporters up with Twitter accounts (or something just like Twitter) and they will use them to post up-to-the-minute information from around the country.
I feel less confident that those updates will be featured prominently in a sidebar on that news organization's home page on election night. But they should be. (Although new information delivered via Twitter might invalidate a longer analysis piece sitting next to it.)