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The most innovative ways that newsrooms covered Brexit

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The most innovative ways that newsrooms covered Brexit

Elyssa Pachico | June 29, 2016

The United Kingdom's recent vote to leave the European Union (EU) made front-page news across the globe and sparked plenty of analysis on what comes next for the country and its allies. The “Brexit” referendum isn’t just a story for political and business journalists: it’s been covered from a sports angle, in culture sections and from a tech perspective, to name but a few.

The sheer breadth of media coverage on Brexit also showcased the many approaches a newsroom can take when covering a development that has incredible impact, but which few people predicted. While "stunning" developments like Brexit don’t happen often, analyzing media coverage on the referendum offers several key lessons for journalists on how to report on global game-changers.

Here are some highlights from how U.S. and British newsrooms covered the vote.

Thinking visually

At its essence, Brexit is a story about who voted, where and why — arguably the perfect vehicle for maps, charts and other visuals. A Washington Post blog used charts to illustrate how the global economy reacted in shock to the Brexit results, while one popular Financial Times graphic focused on the relationship between how certain regions voted and the amount of aid they received from the EU.

Vox took a different route by putting the Brexit vote into context via cartoons, while The Wall Street Journal created a map which updated itself live.

One of the more innovative visualizations was developed by Google News Lab, which created what it described as a “360-degree data visualization” showing the top Brexit-related questions being asked on search engines prior to the vote. The Lab called the visualization an “experiment” in how fast developers could put something together, adding that it was best experienced through a VR viewer.

However, one of the most-shared charts on Twitter was also one of the simplest. Credited to marketing research firm YouGov, the chart’s popularity is a reminder that so long as a graphic is telling a story in a compelling and straightforward way, not every visual needs bells and whistles to connect with readers at a mass scale.

New platforms, technologies for breaking news

One BBC news show relied heavily on Facebook Live for coverage on the day after the referendum, showcasing reporters in the field and answering Facebook questions from viewers live. The Online Journalism Blog noted that the news show essentially ran “its own 24-hour TV channel,” and was indicative of “how a news program can work around the limitations of broadcast. No fancy studio, no lights and makeup: just a journalist and a webcam.”

BuzzFeed also relied heavily on Facebook Live to cover the lead-up to the vote, another example of how media organizations have been quick to adapt this tool. 

Elsewhere, the BBC created a news bot to publish updates on referendum voting results throughout the night of the referendum vote. This was the prominent bot used to to report on voting updates, although there were reportedly plenty of others produced prior to the vote for propaganda purposes.

Other innovative approaches to covering breaking news were seen in Politico’s use of an Apple app to send instant notifications to users, and The Guardian’s experiments in sending updates via its Mobile Innovation Lab.

Highlighting the best comments

Both The Guardian and The Financial Times highlighted the most thoughtful reader commentary in their comments sections, with some comments going viral on social media.

Media coverage of Brexit also included some noteworthy examples of citizen journalism, such as one Facebook user who compiled screenshots of alleged racist incidents reported on social media.  

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Rich Girard.

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