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Powerful Tool for Illinois Voters

Knight News Innovation Lab at Northwestern University unveils online tool for voters

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March 14, 2012 | by Erin White

EVANSTON, Ill. --- If you want up-to-the-minute insights on Illinois congressional candidates before casting your vote next week, check out Congressional Primaries 2012.

The new tool from the Knight News Innovation Lab at Northwestern University can be accessed online at www.congressionalprimaries.org.

The project tracks social media activity on Twitter and Facebook, campaign finance data and other relevant online information to create comprehensive profiles of each candidate running in the congressional primaries held across Illinois’ 18 congressional districts Mar. 20.

“This technology gives voters additional insight into candidates’ priorities and focus,” said Michael Silver, Knight Lab executive director. “The abundance of data on the Web – not only about candidates but also about people who are engaged with them – is really incredible. We’ve used that data to help voters decide whom to support in this month’s primary elections.”

For example, in the second district race, voters can compare Democrat Debbie Halvorson’s and Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr.’s latest tweets and Facebook status updates and see which topics Halvorson’s and Jackson’s social media followers are talking about.

Voters can also see where, geographically, each candidates’ contributions are from and the latest news stories from the Web that mention each candidate. 

The technology behind the tool was developed in the Knight News Innovation Lab, a joint initiative of Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Medill School of Journalism. 

“Combining the technical skill of computer scientists and the news savvy of journalists, Congressional Primaries 2012 has been able to uncover stories that may have otherwise remained hidden in the data," said Owen Youngman, a Knight Lab executive board member and Medill's Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy.

One of the lab’s primary objectives is to provide new technology to publishers to help make the online news publishing process more efficient and effective.

More than a dozen Illinois media organizations are using the tool on their websites with their own branding and navigation.

For more information on the Knight News Innovation Lab at Northwestern University and Congressional Primaries 2012, contact Ryan Graff, outreach manager at the lab, at r-graff@northwestern.edu or (847) 467–3576.

Topics: Research