Election Night Virtual Watch PartyLive election parties are so 2008.

Putting a twist on traditional watch parties of the past, the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Reuben Stern moderated his first ‘Election Night Virtual Watch Party’ Tuesday night. Stern worked with the Missourian, KBIA radio, KOMU news and Project Open Vault to connect mid-Missouri readers and viewers with a second-screen election night experience.

“Our sense is that people are going to already be watching television or listening to the radio or online somehow, and the idea here is that we can give them a second-screen experience connected to news as it’s coming in, “ Stern explained. “It’s an example of turning a heavy news night into a social experience using the technology that we have.”

Stern was inspired to design a digital watch party just a few months ago while watching the Republican National Convention.

Virtual Watch Party on an iPhone“I was sitting there on my phone and desperately trying to see what my friends were saying on Twitter, what people were saying on Facebook, and trying to post my own witty comments and get that validation of being connected to people even though I’m at home,” Stern remembered. “This is a scenario that younger people are 100 percent accustomed to, so we tried to figure out a way to do that around the election.”

The mobile website, accessible from smartphone, tablet or computer, resembles an ”old-school digital chat room,” according to Stern. The RJI Futures Lab editor compared it to a real-life party, with different rooms for people interested in different topics. Areas included the Presidential election, Missouri Senate race and other local elections.

Every good party has a VIP section, and digital parties are no exception. Participants could go behind the velvet ropes to a chat room that featured guests including political science professors, city council members and student politicians. A live Twitter stream was also featured, showcasing tweets from candidates and others connected to the election.

As moderator, Stern was available for individual chats throughout the party, allowing anyone that had issues or feedback to make their voice heard. Uncertain just how people would respond and participate before the virtual party’s launch, Stern put certain safeguards in place.

“I wasn’t going to throw a party without some bouncers there,” Stern said. “This is a political thing, so it could get really ugly quickly. We do have the ability to kick anybody out if we want to… it’s built into the system where I can block someone’s comments from appearing.”

Virtual Watch Party on an iPadThe experiment also used metrics to record where people at the party were from, how long they stayed and how much they participated. Stern hopes to use that data to gain knowledge that could help advertisers and news outlets, and potentially launch another watch party in the future.

“We have some great ideas for version 2.0,” Stern said. “If you get hungry, we could bring in a sponsor and you could, say, order a pizza from Dominos or somewhere without leaving. Down the line, we might be able to integrate things like that that would potentially get advertisers in as well.”

While the results of the digital party experiment before its launch were as unpredictable as the results of the election, Stern had clear plans for its purpose in the community.

“Our goal, as with everything with the [Reynolds Journalism] Institute, is to share this with the industry and help other news organizations do things that are helpful,” Stern noted. “One of the big things that we always talk about in journalism is that the value we provide to a community isn’t just providing information. It’s helping to build the community; it’s helping make democracy work. This is what I would view as another piece of that… helping create that whole experience around it and foster that kind of conversation rather than just dumping the information and walking away.”


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