Five years ago Small World News was very much involved in devising and supporting innovative election reporting and monitoring projects. Our Alive in Afghanistan Ushahidi instance was credited with being one of the first international sources reporting fraud in the Afghan elections of 2009 and 2010. In addition to providing training and consulting to Pajhwok Afghan News, in 2010 we had the opportunity to work with international and local election monitors, from Democracy International and the Free Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA).
We revisited election reporting in Afghanistan for the 2014 presidential campaign. John Smock produced training material for radio coverage of elections and ran a couple of related workshops. Last December I ran a training for journalists in Burundi ahead of the elections scheduled for this summer. Now we are working on new curriculum in preparation for the upcoming elections in Iran scheduled for February 2015.
Recently I have been investigating how the new paths format in StoryMaker might be used specifically for election reporting and monitoring. I believe we can set some very real and very attainable goals for improving coverage.
Election reporting far too often deteriorates into little more than “horse race” coverage. Important community issues get lost in the “he said, she said,” and mudslinging of campaign trail reporting. Paths and assignments within StoryMaker could be developed to encourage interviews with citizens about issues important to them and communities that all too often are overlooked. News agencies could then use these stories to help direct coverage beyond press conferences and campaign stops. Advocacy organizations could use these stories to call candidates out on specific issues.
Election monitoring has its own challenges. Independent international monitors are often very limited in the media they can use to document issues in and around polling stations. They also have a very narrow mandate––things like vote counting, and assessing activity at the polls. But, the most important reporting and monitoring often happen in the days before or after the election and away from polling stations.
To address this local organizations have developed an assortment of solutions. For example, FEFA in Afghanistan typically assumes the role of observing violations of election laws. Two years ago in Pakistan, The Punjab Information Technology board created an app for monitoring various violations, called Punjab Elections Monitoring. In the case of international organizations such as Democracy International, if they are able to recruit and manage a local monitoring effort separate from election day responsibilities, they do work similar to local organizations.
StoryMaker could streamline election monitoring and reporting by enabling organizations to create paths and assignments specifically tailored to the issues on which these organizations focus. Rather than rolling a new app for each issue, election or project, organizations might partner with the StoryMaker Coalition to create well-designed paths on topics such as: monitoring specific threats, interviewing voters on specific topics, or asking StoryMaker users to submit stories about the most important issues affecting how they will vote.
By designing specific paths in StoryMaker, we could dramatically improve the impact and relevance of election reporting and monitoring around the world. A single, well-designed platform would also allow for the creation of a global repository of election-related stories and data.