Politics

Here’s How We’re “Calling” Election Night

Live, open, and transparent.

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Here at BuzzFeed News’ New York headquarters, we’ll cover the US presidential election Tuesday live across a wide set of platforms: our website, our own apps and push notifications, our native updates on social platforms, and a live video show right in the heart of the conversation, on Twitter’s live platform.

This is a high-stakes moment, and a moment in which Americans’ trust in their institutions is frighteningly low. And so we’d like to outline here how we and our partners at Decision Desk HQ are planning to inform you about the biggest story in the world — who is winning each state in the US presidential election — in the open, transparent spirit of the social web.

"Calling" States

Television networks have traditionally been the ones to decide who is elected president — even as state election officials don’t certify the votes for days. They call the states one by one with booming voices, flashy graphics, stirring music, and hints that they have a group of wizards in a back room — their “decision desks” — with special tools and exclusive information.

But behind that drama is the same conversation that you’ll see play out through the night on Twitter and on our platforms: dozens of nerds, at networks and elsewhere in the country, trying to figure out who won each state.

The Safe States

As soon as the polls close in about half of the country, you’ll see some networks “project” that one candidate or another has won those states. These projections are totally reasonable — they’re based nominally on the day’s exit polls, and in fact on expectations built up over years of elections and polls and confirmed by the exits.

But we’re going to do something a bit different on this front: We’ll be transparent about those expectations, and start the night with the map above — something you might recognize from 270toWin and other sites. We’ll color in the states that we expect to go to either candidate, and have our electoral college tally reflect that starting point. We’ll be doing that quite conservatively, starting with just the 26 safest states, and waiting for the results even in traditionally very safe Republican states in the South and Democratic ones in the Upper Midwest and West. (Come argue with us on Twitter about Oregon and South Carolina!). That starts Hillary Clinton with 175 electoral college votes, and Donald Trump with 78.

The Contested States

For the rest of the states, the networks rely on data collected by the Associated Press from state and local election officials, and analyzed by people who know that, for instance, that a poor Republican showing in Waukesha County spells trouble in Wisconsin for Trump, or a poor Democratic showing in Philadelphia could make Pennsylvania too close to call for Clinton.

We will be looking at what other media outlets are doing, but we won’t pretend we have a back room full of wizards with access to special data. Instead, we’ll be looking at data gathered directly from the states, at what other outlets are doing, and of course at the public tallies from the Associated Press and other sources.

BuzzFeed News and Decision Desk HQ

In particular, we’re adding one of the internet’s big new brains: Decision Desk HQ, a new grassroots media company that grew out of the conservative blogosphere, and that will have more than 200 volunteers around the country gathering data directly from state and local election officials. Decision Desk, led by Brandon Finnigan, will be operating from our New York office, and will provide live analysis on our show that mirrors the open conversation on Twitter — where things seem to be headed, what the key details are, and even why different media outlets might be making different calls.

Decision Desk HQ’s data will be powering a map on BuzzFeed.com, and they’ll be live on our show — and, of course, on Twitter and their own site. They’ll also be calling states based on their data, and BuzzFeed News will typically follow those decisions — with a rule of thumb that we’ll be looking for a second trusted source, from the great network decision desks to the analysts at 538, before we are confident telling our readers that a decision is final.

We Hope You'll Trust Us

At the root of all these decisions is trust. We’re a new media outlet, born in this swarming, chaotic, and polarized new ecosystem. We don’t believe that our audience is going to trust a news outlet because they’ve got dramatic music, great graphics, or great hair. (Our staff will also have great hair, btw.) We hope you’ll trust us, instead, because our wizards don’t hide behind the curtain — because we aren’t pretending we have any secrets, just dozens of smart, experienced journalists and analysts working hard and who are utterly open to what our friends and rivals in the rest of the media conversation have to say.

We believe that our site, our push notifications, our tweets, and our Twitter show will offer you a clear window into not just into who’s winning, but also how journalists and analysts are making these calls. And we hope that transparency is a good reason to trust us.

Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.

Contact Ben Smith at ben@buzzfeed.com.

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