Belfast Telegraph: The Northern Ireland Assembly Election

The Belfast Telegraph’s digital coverage of the Assembly election in May 2022, which saw Sinn Fein become the largest party in Northern Ireland, was the result of superb teamwork across editorial and development teams. It showcased our technical skills, editorial know-how when covering big news days, our expertise and knowledge of the electoral system and election issues, the energy of our young team of reporters and our passion and flair for clever digital storytelling and data visualisation. It also highlights our sophisticated approach with regards to the packaging and presentation of content for mobile, search and social audiences.

We knew this could be a watershed election whose outcome would be decided by vote transfers (in accordance with the single transferable vote system). It was our ambition to deliver the most comprehensive and engaging coverage online (compared to our competitors), setting the agenda with strong exclusives during the campaign and leading the way with our live in-depth coverage of the results. Our results pages for Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies, detailing votes and transfers for all 239 candidates, required weeks of development and testing to best present the results on mobile, tablet and desktop. The graphics team also designed templates for social cards which we used on Twitter and in the live blog. During the campaign our politics staff delivered strong exclusives, for example setting the agenda with our last vote tracker poll ahead of polling day. We also used the campaign to launch a news and current affairs ‘BelTel’ podcast and a politics newsletter, Politics Unplugged, fronted by the Belfast Telegraph’s Political Editor, Suzanne Breen. We also live streamed a special election Q&A event for our subscribers. We staffed every count centre with a team of reporters who relayed results back to the newsroom as soon as they were declared, shot mobile videos and filed live blog updates and constituency reports. They reported that our site was widely used by counting staff and the press pack. Our two-day coverage of the results included: •Live blogs from the start of the count until the last seat was declared in the early hours of the morning two days later •Visualisation of first preference votes and transfers for every candidate, their election or elimination •Visualisation of live results at a Northern Ireland-wide level •Rolling social coverage with bespoke results cards •Constituency reports, at-a-glance shareable articles and in-depth analyses of what the results meant •Breaking push notifications and additional newsletters •Search optimisation strategy Our coverage reached close to 400,000 site users and delivered 1.8M pageviews during the two-day count. Average engagement time on the site exceeded a minute, up 26.5% on the previous period. All our distribution channels delivered higher audience reach (*), including: •Search: + 134% compared to then-four-weekly average •Mobile app: +85% •Homepage: +78% •Newsletter: +30% •Social: +17.5% (including Twitter: +30%) Site traffic in May 2022 was up 19% YoY and 20% MoM.