UniPollWatch launches data projects for election

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 7.39.23 pmUniPollWatch, Australia’s biggest-ever university journalism project, has today launched two special features designed to assist voters.

As part of its comprehensive coverage of the election, UniPollWatch has produced a report card on each of the 150 current members of the House of Representatives, and the first interactive electoral map that reveals the marginal status of each electorate.

These extensive, data driven features are the first of their kind produced by any media for the 2016 election.

“Australia’s journalism students are making a valuable contribution to the coverage of the federal election,” said UniPollwatch editor-in-chief Andrew Dodd of Swinburne University.

Monash journalism students have been contributing to UniPollWatch since the start of semester one 2016 and a core group are filling stories right up to and on election day.

The Monash student reporters have thus far filed close to 40 stories, covering the electorates Aston, Chisholm, Hotham, Gippsland, Flinders and McMillan.

Dr Johan Lidberg.
Dr Johan Lidberg.

“It’s been a wild ride, and it’s not over yet,” said Monash campus and Victoria state co-editor, Dr Johan Lidberg.

“We’ve still got a few really interesting stories in the pipe line.

“The data driven report cards, are part of what is called the House:Divided investigation, conducted by Bond University students. The report cards give voters the opportunity to see exactly how active, or otherwise, their local member has been in parliament.”

Using Hansard records, MPs were assessed on their attendance, the number of speeches delivered in parliament, their participation in Question Time and their involvement in committee work.

Bond University journalism lecturer Caroline Graham said accountability was a fundamental tenet of the UniPollWatch coverage.

“We really believe that voters have the right to know how often their MPs show up, how actively they participate and how much they advocate for their electorate,” Ms Graham said.

“We’ve been able to identify and acknowledge some of the stand-out politicians, as well as call out those who have barely been seen or heard in the lower house.”

The House:Divided project also mined data relating to almost 3500 questions and 20,000 speeches to find out what issues have generated the most debate in Canberra, and which have slipped under the radar.

Meanwhile Charles Sturt University journalism staff and students have created what is believed to be the first-ever interactive electoral map in Australia that visually reveals the marginal status of each electorate in a project titled Election at a glance.

The clickable map includes pop-out boxes for each electorate, which contain listings of all candidates, as well as the number of enrolled voters.

The map was developed in a second-year data journalism subject by data journalism students were guided through the project by CSU teaching staff, Dr Margaret Van Heekeren, Ms Isabel Fox and Ms Sandra Parker.

“We believe this is an Australian first,” said Ms Fox.

“Our research has not uncovered any other map that shows the marginal status of each seat. People are used to seeing electoral pendulums which show this information, but we believe the map is more interesting and accessible.”

“These features are great ideas as they present information in new ways for the benefit of voters,” said Prof Dodd.

“They also allow students to develop valuable skills and to work alongside students from 28 universities to cover this election in new ways.”

The UniPollWatch project involves 28 Australian university journalism programs. It profiles every lower house electorate and many of the candidates, as well as some of the major policies.

The website www.unipollwatch.org.au is published by the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia.

The site is expected to publish its 500th story this week, with material continuing to be produced by Journalism students from first year undergraduate to post-graduate level, in a mass work-integrated learning project.

For media comment:

About UniPollWatch

Andrew Dodd, Swinburne University: 0419 323 610

Johan Lidberg, Monash University: 0404 949 250