In preparation for Tuesdays election one journal

first_imgIn preparation for Tuesday’s election, one journalism instructor is going beyond the classroom and ensuring voters are treated fairly and can exercise their right to vote with ease.Meredith Cummings, an instructor in the department of journalism and creative media at the University of Alabama, plans to take students from her classes to the Digital Media Center in Bryant-Denny Stadium to research and report on issues related to voting that arise throughout the day.“This is a nonpartisan effort, which sprung out of our past participation in Electionland,” Cummings said.Electionland is a coalition created by ProPublica that brings together local newsrooms across the country on Election Day. University of Alabama students collaborated with Electionland during the 2016 presidential election, but this year, Cummings’ students will take a more independent approach to voter advocacy.Problems encountered in the past included fantastical photos and fliers circulating on social media to sway voters, people with disabilities having trouble navigating the voting process, long lines deterring people from waiting and voter intimidation. Cummings has trained her students to find, recognize, fact check and help solve these problems in real time.“Our poll monitoring is important because it catches out flaws in the system when they happen,” Cummings said. “There are obvious problems, such as broken voting machines or a voter being turned away, but something as seemingly unimportant, yet annoying – like a long line to vote – could be a factor if enough people cannot vote because they need to return to work or school in a timely manner.”The Multimedia Editing class is working with ProPublica and Jimmy Wales, an Alabama alumnus and co-founder of Wikipedia and WikiTribune. The Media Capstone class will be mentored by Derek Willis, who works with Electionland at ProPublica. Any data the students gather will be funneled to their mentors at their respective news organizations, as well as to WVUA 23, when applicable.Claire Stebbins, a senior in Cummings’s Media Capstone and Multimedia Editing classes, will work back-to-back shifts during the day in lieu of her normal day. She said that, while it will be a lot of work, she looks forward to taking a closer look at the inner workings of democracy in Alabama.“I’m actually really excited to see at different times of the day how different reports will be coming in,” Stebbins said. “Meredith prepared us by teaching us different social media tools like how to fact check photos to make sure they are real and how to look up certain words to find information about people to check for credibility and accuracy.”The operation relies heavily on social media, as many voters often take to the internet to voice their complaints. This is actually a good thing, Cummings said, because it helps students use a versatile tool for the betterment of the community.“Our students have learned to verify user-generated content, such as social media posts, as well as use data journalism to fact check and confirm anything we find,” Cummings said. “This way they are able to put into practice real-time reporting skills during the election.”Making sure students’ efforts stay unbiased and fair is something Cummings emphasized all semester. Stebbins said this resonated with her because, as someone who grew up in a swing state, she knows the importance of every voice being heard.“Regardless of party lines and partisanship, this midterm election has so much importance,” she said. “I am a journalism and political science double major and I want to go to law school. Also, I am from Ohio, so it’s really exciting to be from that aspect and be able to mix the political science and journalism and law into one thing and make it happen.”Jet Davis, a senior in Cummings’s Media Capstone class, said he’s interested in seeing how the voting process works for people who come from all walks of life. He anticipates something of a culture shock when it comes to finding transportation and being permitted to vote.“I’m kind of hoping to get a better understanding of what goes into elections for people who are not as privileged as I am,” Davis said. “So for people who have trouble getting to the polls or have troubles with addresses. I am also excited to understand how democracy in general works for people of all backgrounds and levels of privilege and what certain people have to go through.”Throughout the semester, Cummings’ students have spent time researching election data from the past 20 years to search for trends and consistencies with precincts and voter turnout. With the decline of voting precincts in the past few years, Cummings is looking to see “how and if DMV closures and the new Voter ID bill have affected voting in Alabama.”She said she hopes being familiar with election history will be a tool for students when they find discrepancies and trends in the data they will gather on election day. However, Davis said he is ready for whatever comes down the line.“I’m expecting tomorrow to be kind of hectic but a lot of fun and really fulfilling,” Davis said. “I’m hoping there won’t be any issues that can’t be solved really quickly. We’ve also got our basic journalism tools, like interviewing and asking questions and fact checking things to help us through the process. I believe we wouldn’t be doing this if Professor Cummings didn’t think we were prepared.”For Davis, this project might not be just a class assignment, but a possible career.“Because of this class and doing more stuff with election data, I’ve started to look at (political reporting) as more of an option, but right now I’m kind of just along for the ride and doing what I can while the opportunity is there,” he said.Stebbins said she also feels prepared to take on this task, thanks to the training she has received this semester. The most important thing, she said, is keeping her eyes open – and her laptop charged.“I have to remember to bring my laptop charger so my computer won’t die on me,” she said. “I plan to get set up with the different sites and tools Meredith showed us and just start chugging through Twitter, checking people to make sure they are real and not bots, and checking to see what is happening in Tuscaloosa or Montgomery or elsewhere. It’s definitely going to be a great experience.”Given her background and career aspirations, this project means a lot to Stebbins. She said her ultimate goal is to make a positive impact on Alabama voters and be a useful part of a worthy cause.“To make the process fair for everybody through monitoring social media for any problems that voters are having at the polls and being able to fact check and send advocates to see these things that are happening, I am really happy to be part of that,” Stebbins said.To Davis, this project could not be as successful as it has the potential to be if it were not for the effort Cummings put into it. He said he always looks forward to her class and working on another piece of this puzzle, and her enthusiasm for democracy and journalism means the world.“(Cummings has) been so great and respectful of all of us all the time,” Davis said. “You really can tell that she cares a lot about her students. It’s awesome to be in a college where professors genuinely care about me and want me to succeed, not just to make themselves look good, but because they really do care.”last_img read more