Recounting the Star Tribune

/ 16 December 2008

It would be hard to miss the news that the real election-day battle here in Minnesota was for our Senate seat. Norm Colman and Al Franken are now tied in one of the closest Senate elections in history. An internal Franken analysis I got in email a few weeks back, for example, estimated that they would win the election by 4 (that’s F-O-U-R) votes out of almost 3 million.

Let’s leave aside that this narrow a margin is well within the noise for our election technology. There is just no way to really be sure who won. I expect the US Senate may, in the end, have to make the call. Still, for now the state is engaged in a wonderfully informative recount. All things considered, it has been a very civil and positive affair.

I’d like to call out one organization for special recognition: the Star Tribune. One of two metro newspapers, the Star Trib is on the verge of bankruptcy and may not be with us much longer. During this recount, though, they have proven their worth and shown some real creativity. I hope it helps them win readership, it has certainly made me feel better about the money I spend on a subscription.

As the two campaigns have challenged ballots during the recount, the Star Trib decided to post images of every single challenged ballot. They let folks come to their web site and record their views about the validity of each challenge. Access to these images alone was a great service, but the Strib didn’t stop there. From the data they collected, the paper created a “virtual canvassing board” which used the wisdom of the crowd to analyze these challenges. From this they predict that once all but the 200 most difficult challenges are resolved, Franken will likely have erased Colman’s lead. Fascinating work.

I love that this old rag has found a way to engage the new media intelligently. Not just showing us the story, but letting us turn around and breath life into the story ourselves. This is the future of the fourth estate. I wonder if the Strib will be around to live that future.

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