Innovation in Inauguration Coverage

    by Megan Taylor
    January 20, 2009
    Screenshot of TimeSpace Inauguration, from The Washington Post.

    This week, instead of focusing on one innovative journalism project, I’d like to highlight some of the many projects that came up covering Barack Obama’s inauguration. The first question I asked myself as I started collecting links was, “Well, this is a cool way to cover the event, but is it journalism?

    For example, I saw a lot of “official” government entities making use of technology. While ethically the government could have conflicts of interest while covering itself, it looks like the Obama administration really understands the power of the web, as evidenced by changes made to WhiteHouse.gov immediately after the inauguration ceremony, as well as the smooth takeover of the @thewhitehouse Twitter account. It could portend unprecedented transparency in the American government.

    I really liked how media outlets are taking notice of social media, and beginning to harness its power. CNN, NPR, the New York Times and others took Twitter, Facebook and Flickr posts and made them part of the storytelling strategy. Perhaps the old (in web terms) “user-generated content” concept is finally getting more ingrained into important coverage online?


    Maps. I love maps. Google maps, Flash maps, interactive, 3-D, the more detailed the better. And the inaguration spawned plenty. Maps of the Mall, of DC, of the parade route, road closures and more.

    Speaking of 3-D, Microsoft’s Photosynth, when teamed up with CNN, was gorgeous. Check out the results.

    Perhaps the biggest trend was simply live-streaming the event. From the “We Are One Concert” all the way to the inauguration ceremony itself, the live video could be found online at a variety of sites. Ustream even managed to stream the video to iPhones. So if you didn’t watch, you have no excuse.


    The Good Stuff

    The People’s Inaugural Address

    Slate, collaborating with MixedInk allowed readers to crowdsource the inaugural address.

    “On this site, you can write, edit and remix each other’s words — along with those of the past years’ presidents — to create an inaugural that reflects your collective viewpoint. The top-rated version at the end will be published on inauguration day at Slate.com!”

    A great experiment and a good way to find out what people are thinking about and expecting from this presidency. I’m not sure how many applications this would have in a news context though.

    Everyone and Their Moms Broadcasting Online

    It seems like every possible source was live-streaming the inauguration: The Washington Post, Joost, Ustream on the iPhone, The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, CBS, FOX News (via Hulu), C-SPAN, and Current TV, to name just a few.

    Inauguration Report: Dispatches From Listeners


    NPR used social media to help people share their experiences on inauguration day. Using Twitter, mobile phone applications, YouTube, Flickr and text messages, NPR put together a feed of contributions. The feed is viewable as a live stream, slideshow or in widget form.

    Inauguration Report takes crowdsourcing and live blogging and uses an amazing combination of technologies to let people tell their stories.

    The Interactive Inauguration: Best Practices

    A week before the inauguration, Poynter hosted a conversation online about interactive coverage. People asked questions of Andy Carvin and Erica Smith about their plans and how to cover different aspects of the event. The whole thing was recorded using CoverItLive, allowing readers to go back to the conversation later.

    SJSU’s Inauguration Road Trip

    San Jose State journalism students were able to cover the inauguration on a blog; their work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, on CNN, and KTVU.

    From the blog:

    The goal for these journalism, advertising and public relations students — to walk back through time and learn at these historic sites how the blood, sweat and tears of the 1950s and ’60s equal rights pioneers paved the way for all people of color, women, gays and lesbians, the disabled and religious cultural groups in America to be recognized, appreciated, and valued in our society, and to have equal opportunity to live the American dream.

    Anticipation on a City Block

    Here’s something really different about how the inauguration actually affects people and communities. On one city block in Washington DC, two churches divided over race have come together for Obama’s inauguration. There are photos and audio of residents at the buildings they are opening to visitors.

    Presidential Inaugural Committee on Twitter and Flickr

    The Presidential Inaugural Committee set up a Twitter account to alert followers to scheduling information and track events during the inauguration. They also created a photostream on Flickr.

    Obama Inauguration iPhone Apps

    The 2009 Presidential Inauguration Guide landing screen counted down to the inauguration, and measured the distance of the user from the steps of the Capitol building. The application also provided information about metro service and parking garage locations, local restaurants, Wi-Fi zones, and after-parties. It was developed by Patton Boggs, a law firm and Qorvis Communications, a PR firm.

    The Obama for America iPhone app was also updated.

    The Change iPhone app reveals issue-related news, tweets, and lets users vote in favor or against the administration’s approach to an issue.

    CNN and NYT Harness Facebook


    CNN and the New York Times invited Facebook users to share their opinions while watching the inauguration.
    I was surprised to see that these two outlets chose to work with Facebook instead of Twitter for this. It seems as though Twitter would have been the better tool for the type of conversation they were trying to start.

    Inauguration Google Maps

    A host of inauguration-related Google map goodness: parade routes, restricted roads, extended hours at bars and restaurants, historic locations and video.

    The Inauguration Day Journalist’s Cheatsheet

    Al’s Morning Meeting brings journalists a cheatsheet of resources for covering the inauguration, including historical facts, speeches, local coverage, memorabilia, and the role of religion in the inauguration ceremony.

    Inaugural Comparisons

    A lot of comparison projects have been done, including History of Presidential Inaugurations, Boston.com’s
    Memorable moments in inauguration history and CNN’s Words from the past.

    But I think the New York Times did it best with Inaugural Words, a graphic comparing the most used words in each speech, including full transcripts and summaries.

    Clip and Embed


    On the MSNBC Inauguration front page, not only was the entire event streamed live, but the video player included footage from previous inaugurations, complete with transcripts. Key words let viewers navigate content, clip portions and embed them on their own websites.

    I had to list this separately from all the other streaming sites becuase the video player is truly impressive.

    Mass Observation

    January 20th is stretching the boundaries of using Twitter to collect information. Observations were collected via Twitter and email and will be used to create a “comprehensive record” of the inauguration.

    “We’re coordinating a massive journalistic project to document BARACK OBAMA’s inauguration. Observers across the country on JANUARY THE 20TH will track minutiae and seeming trivialities, creating a curious and comprehensive record of the day. We’re replicating Mass Observation, a movement of 1930s British intellectuals who believed the most revealing way to document an event was to report the peripheral activities surrounding it. THE MASS OBSERVERS carried out their greatest project on May 12th, 1937, when they dispatched more than 200 observers throughout London to document the coronation of KING GEORGE VI. To participate in this once-in-a-lifetime endeavor follow us on Twitter and post your observations on Inauguration Day.”

    This project really impressed me with the ability to take an old idea and implement it with new technology.

    Calculating Crowds
    NYT’s A Million Here, A Million There maps the capacity of the Mall in Washington and estimates how many people would be at the event.

    The Obameter


    PolitiFact is back with more truth-tracking goodness: The Obameter will track the status of over 500 promises that Obama made during his campaign.

    I Hope So Too

    The New York Times wants to know what people hope will come out of the Obama administration. After interviewing over 200 people, their hopes were recorded and grouped for visitors to hear. Vote on hopes you share, or add yours to the comments.

    Another great crowdsourcing effort. People have stories, and too often journalists get in the way. Here, technology allowed people to transcend barriers and speak directly to others.

    Obama in 3D

    Using CNN photos and user submissions, the inauguration is recreated in three dimensions. CNN teamed up with Microsoft’s Photosynth to stich two dimensional photos together, creating a 3D representation.

    DC Tigers

    A group of high school students from Kansas went to DC to cover the inauguration via Twitter and YouTube videos.

    Inauguration, Lego style


    This has got to be my favorite, if only in terms of creativity and humor. STLToday has a gallery of photos from Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif., where they’ve modified the U.S. Capitol model to illustrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. Yes, the inauguration in Lego.

    100+ Screenshots of Inauguration Day News Coverage

    Danny Sanchez, a journalist at the Orlando Sentinel, put together a photo gallery of over 100 screenshots of news sites’ home pages immediately after the swearing-in ceremony.


    The Washington Post’s TimeSpace has been expanded to cover the inauguration. Check out this awesome map interface for browsing through videos, photos and text from inauguration events.

    Satellite Imagery


    GeoEye took satellite photos of the Mall, proving to be a great way to depict the scene. You can tell how many people are packed into the Mall, and get an idea for the landscape. A very different result from other graphics and maps.

    These are all great examples of using different mediums to tell stories — or letting stories tell themselves.

    What other examples of innovative coverage have you seen for the inauguration?

    Tagged: barack obama event coverage inauguration innovation journalism

    4 responses to “Innovation in Inauguration Coverage”

    1. Adena Schutzberg says:

      You didn’t address the question: “Well, this is a cool way to cover the event, but is it journalism?”

    2. Adena, given the normal scope of this series, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to lead that discussion here. It’s a topic for another time.

    3. Stan says:

      WaPo also asked people to upload pictures of watch parties to its Facebook page. I also agree that the Mass Observation project by Twitter is interesting – it makes the new technology legitimate by placing it in an historical context. Here is a good clip comparing the coverage of the inauguration by various news organizations at Newsy.com: http://www.newsy.com/videos/american_networks_banking_on_inauguration

    4. Thanks, Stan. That video is really interesting.

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