CongressionalPrimaries.org, the first major initiative of the Knight News Innovation Laboratory, went live officially this week. The site demonstrates several technologies that enhance coverage of this year’s congressional primary elections in Illinois — while also providing components that publishers can incorporate into their own websites between now and the March 20 primary election.

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There are 25 contested primaries in Illinois’ 18 congressional districts, the first elections under newly drawn district boundaries. As a result of the redistricting, many people will be choosing among candidates they know little about.

The primary elections initiative takes into account the new realities of media and politics today, including candidates’ extensive use of social media and the fragmentation of the news audience. The project’s three main elements are:

  • Candidate profiles from a social media perspective, including analysis of what the candidates tweet about and what their followers tweet about;
  • An aggregation tool that collects coverage of individual congressional primary races from many sources;
  • A simplified snapshot of campaign contributions that focuses on the geographical profile of each candidate’s contributor base.

To see the full range of capabilities built into the site, I’d recommend you look at the most active contests: for instance, the Democratic primary in the 2nd District (Debbie Halvorson vs. Jesse Jackson Jr.) or the Republican primary in the 16th District (Don Manzullo vs. Adam Kinzinger).

The mission of the Knight Lab, a joint program of Northwestern University’s journalism and computer science programs, is to "accelerate media innovation" in the Chicago area. The primary elections project aims to accomplish this by providing new elements of campaign coverage to web publishers of all sizes. The Lab’s goal is to have the election coverage distributed through as many news outlets as possible.

News organizations can use the Lab’s congressional coverage by adding their own branding and navigation to pages hosted by the Lab. Or news organizations can use "widgets" that incorporate elements of the coverage into their websites. Either way, they get coverage of the campaigns that goes beyond what any one organization can provide itself.

Between now and the primary, the Lab will be adding elements to the showcase site. After March 20, the Lab’s leadership team will review the results of the elections initiative and consider expanding on it for the November general election.

Details about the congressional primaries project are available in two PDF files on the Knight Lab website: a project overview and FAQ. There is also a project blog, which includes an "About this project" post. Potential partners may contact r-graff@northwestern.edu