Data: Assignment #1 (due Tuesday 11/22)

Part 1 of your data assignment for this class will be to convert unsearchable PDFs of certified election results into .csv spreadsheet files. This is for the crowdsourced Open Elections project.

Here are detailed instructions on creating a usable .csv file for Open Elections. (Scroll down to “The Process.”) Please follow these detailed instructions. If we turn in something that varies from this format, it will be not usable for the project (and your grade will reflect this). If you have any questions, email me before 3 p.m. on Monday.

We are focusing on 2015 general election results in Mississippi. You can find your county assignment(s) here. (Here’s a list of all the the MS counties with 2015 results.)

You will need to email me your .csv files (one for each county) by 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday 11/22. You can create your .csv files by using Excel/Numbers or you can make your county spreadsheets in Google Sheets. Here’s a guide to using Google Sheets.


Assignment for 10/13

1) Find three public Facebook groups to monitor on Election Day. In the comments section of this post, publish the name of the group, the URL and a brief summary of why it may be fruitful to monitor the group on Election Day.

2) Watch this short First Draft video on Twitter lists. (To search Twitter lists, type*/lists/[your search terms] into Google browser bar.

3) Find two Twitter lists to subscribe to and follow on Election Day. Add them as columns on Tweetdeck. (We’ll look at Tweetdeck on Thursday.)

4) Start your own public or private Twitter list of people to follow on Election Day. (Public lists are visible to everyone and send notification to people you add. Private lists are visible only to you.) Add at least 50 people to the list.

Electionland reading list

We’ll have a “reading list” channel on Slack, but I will also publish links to interesting stories here.

Why 10% of Florida Adults Can’t Vote: How Felony Convictions Affect Access to the Ballot, by K.K. Rebecca Lai and Jasmine C. Lee, The New York Times

Donald Trump is setting a time bomb, by Jamelle Bouie, Slate

How to rig an election, by Zoe Lofgren, Slate

In a year of Trump and new voting laws, U.S. government will ‘severely’ limit election observers, by Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

Alabama Photo Voter ID Guide, Alabama Secretary of State’s office

Lost Stories distribution plan

Notes from Elizabeth Hoekenga on Lost Stories distribution plan

Focus on the headline. It can make or break your story. We will have headline-brainstorming session after the stories are turned in. To write an effective headline, you need to think about your audience and the platform where you think you’ll find that audience. And think of keywords that people might be searching for. Be enticing but avoid clickbait. (People won’t want to share stories that underdeliver.) Is your story an answer to a question people might be asking.
Deliverable: Think of different headlines for different platforms — Google, Facebook, Twitter — and pitch 3-5 for each.

Think of audiences for your story. Who can you find to share your story? An organization? A celebrity advocate? Another influencer with a large social media following? The communications person at an advocacy organization? Where can you find a large audience? Ask your sources to share on their social media networks. Play to nostalgia. (The “I remember this. Do you remember this?” tendency.)
Deliverable: Who are potential partners to share? What’s the approach for each one? Name 5-7 people/orgs to approach to share, identify the right contact and contact info for each.

Figure out a social media plan. How can’s social media channels get the story out? Why would your story work on a particular social media channel? What can you make to promote the story? (Elizabeth will send examples of ways they’ve promoted certain stories.)
Deliverable: Which platform? Here’s photo I would use. Here’s caption.

Thursday 9/8: Class at Gorgas 104

On Thursday 9/8, class will happen in Gorgas 104, on the ground floor of the library. James Gilbreath, a research librarian, will give you a digital tour of the UA resources available to you. He knows about the Lost Stories project and will steer you toward helpful databases and tools.

Do not come to Reese Phifer on Thursday 9/8. Go straight to Gorgas 104 and be there by 10:55 a.m. in case you get turned around and can’t find room 104.

Lost Stories schedule


For your Lost Stories assignment, you will work individually to research a photo from the Birmingham News photo archive. From this research, you will develop and pitch three story ideas. We will discuss these pitches in small groups and you will settle on one story to pursue. You’ll then report and write a story about or inspired by the photo. You’ll also develop an engagement/distribution plan for your story. The goal is for your story to be published (with your byline) on

Deliverables and deadlines

All of the following should be delivered in two ways: 1) two hard copies brought to class on the due date, and 2) a Google Doc shared with me at

August 30  – Come to class with your top three photo choices. There will be some overlap with your classmates. That’s OK. We’ll concoct some fun way to determine who gets what.

September 6 September 9 September 13 – Backgrounder on the photo due. This summary of the photo should be a minimum of 300 words and it should answer the basic who, what, when, why, where of the photo. You will figure all this out by finding archival stories and doing other research.

September 13 – Three story pitches due. Each pitch should be minimum of 150 words and should articulate a clear story idea (as opposed to a topic or issue — we’ll discuss the difference). The three pitches should be composed in one Google Doc.

September 15 – By the end of class on this day, everyone will have an assigned story to work on.

September 22 – Audience engagement/distribution plan for the story due. If/when publishes your story, who will the target audience be?

September 29 – Final story due. The final story should be at least 800 words (unless you have a convincing reason it should be shorter than that).

Questions? Leave them in the comments.