Students ’splain the campaigns and candidates.
by Lisa Martin Photos by Leo Wesson
More from Fall 2016
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by Lisa Martin
Photos by Leo Wesson
When it came to the 2016 election, the voices of millennials — anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 — often seemed muffled or muddled. While this generation of eligible voters rivals baby boomers in terms of size (69.2 million vs. 69.7 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), mainstream media coverage of the candidates and issues nevertheless tended to focus on the interests of older Americans. And, out of this generation gap, PolitiFrog was launched.
“It’s definitely not politics as usual on our blog,” said Madalyn Shircliff, a 19-year-old sophomore journalism and political science major and an associate editor for PolitiFrog. “It’s for millennials and by millennials. On PolitiFrog, we look at the political scene through humorous eyes with a voice that’s snarky and stories that aren’t boring.”
Brandon Kitchin, a sophomore journalism major, interviews Morgan John, a senior French and anthropology major, to get a millennial’s perspective on the 2016 presidential candidates.
Those young-adult eyes didn’t peer through rose-colored glasses during the turbulent campaign season. Those lenses weren’t particularly purple, either; the blog’s home page pointed out that PolitiFrog represents the viewpoints of students.
A day like Sept. 21 offered a sample of the blog’s signature tone, which evolved from PolitiFrog’s inception in early 2016. One post on that day concerned Ivanka Trump walking out on an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine as questions turned toward the opinions of her father, Donald Trump, on child care and maternity leave: “[Ivanka] later took to Twitter to Trumpsplain,” wrote Shircliff, who plans a career covering politics.
Lest anyone worry about PolitiFrog taking sides, another post that September day directed readers to a Washington Post article on an IT specialist for the Democratic presidential campaign, who the story reported, asked the social media site Reddit to alter emails that put candidate Hillary Clinton in an unflattering light.
“PolitiFrog is simply a way for college students at the end of the millennial generation to cover politics from their point of view,” said Jean Marie Brown, assistant professor of professional practice in journalism and director of student media. “I thought it was silly not to have our students cover the politics and policy that is relevant to their age group.”
A self-described “old city editor at heart,” Brown — who was an editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for nearly a decade — conceived the political blog as a vehicle for students to participate in an authentic newsroom experience. A half-dozen undergraduates, most of whom are journalism majors, contribute to PolitiFrog on a regular basis.
Journalism students ran the PolitiFrog blog during the election and plan to continue the coverage as the new administration enters the White House.
“For many of the students, the challenge was to write in an informal way,” said Christen Carter, director of digital media in the journalism department. “They are used to writing academic papers, but here they really need to take a more conversational tone, so they kept working on it until PolitiFrog took shape in a form they’re proud of.
“We really want the students to use PolitiFrog as a place to try new things, which meant testing out things like podcasting, something that worked really well,” Carter said. “So has putting the site on Facebook, which has enabled the students to interact with readers.” PolitiFrog maintains an active Twitter presence, too.
Students also created a more interactive storytelling experience through the use of data visualizations. “We incorporate different tools like maps, timelines and other infographic images to express concepts and data,” said Isabella Masiello, web editor for PolitiFrog.
“We do fun things, too, like the bingo card I made for the presidential debates,” said the junior news and media major from Maryland. An infographic posted on the blog in late September boiled down the process of voting in the state of Texas.
Dean Straka, an associate senior editor for PolitiFrog, put together man-on-the-street videos posted to the blog. “It’s a Jimmy Kimmel-style thing where we ask random questions or whether someone is going to vote,” said the aspiring sports journalist from California. “We have a lot of freedom to do what we want, though we are expected to be in the newsroom for a few hours each day.”
The dedication of the PolitiFrog staff to its blog posts paid dividends in terms of not only of content but also readership. “We’re starting to figure out what kinds of stories are gaining traction with our readers,” said Masiello, who noted that the website’s analytics are improving. (By early November, nearly 3,000 readers had visited PolitiFrog, staying on the site an average of more than one minute.)
But the PolitiFrog staff’s journalism work doesn’t end with the November elections. The team plans a post-election focus on governing. “It’s been exciting to see it grow,” said Masiello. “And really, it’s still super new. We’ve just begun.”
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Students appraise the political landscape
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