About as digital as most Americans get on election night is to operate the channel clicker. But that is steadily becoming less true. The explanatory and informational firepower of emerging online media tools are too alluring to avoid forever. Each election cycle they become more sophisticated yet easier to work, and they draw more readers and viewers.

The people who create and run these tools inside newsrooms are something like hot-rodders from the 1950s. They labor in the garage for weeks—chopping and channeling, installing a four-barrel carburetor, maybe painting a nice red flame on the fender. Election season, and particularly election night, is when they take that baby out on the road to see what it can do.

Last night there was more live-blogging, interactive mapping, digital visualization, and so forth than a human mind could absorb. It could go over the top, as John Oliver suggested in his skit last night on The Daily Show. He read and “analyzed” a tweet via

real time election center media analysis capabilities. Live-monitoring results and opinions, as they happen, through a light speed stream of instantaneous, real-time microblogging.

Then he enlarged the tweet, a pro-Mitt Romney tweet, onscreen, explaining that:

The election center also has full, rescaling capabilities, through a process that we call “cross-screen transmovability,” which allows us to recotextualize our real-time info blog monitorization. Ba-bam, John.

And there were breakdowns.

The beautiful interactive stuff on The New York Times site, for example, couldn’t handle the traffic load it drew, as @andrewphelps noted on Twittter, and was intermittently unavailable. As @Jvogel3 tweeted back to Phelps, a Times editor, “you made all your graphics way too cool.”

Still, many of these hot-rods roared and purred, delivering great caches of information and insight to inquiring minds.

CJR had its own racer on the street, so to speak, in collaboration with Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Working under Liz Cox Barrett and Greg Marx, frontline editors on CJR’s Swing States Project, and the Tow Center’s Anna Codrea-Rado, who valiantly organized this experiment, seven students from Columbia’s J-school divided up the digital realm and took notes. The student reporters were: Max J. Rosenthal, Luke Hammill, Patrice Marie Howard, Henry Gass, Lauren Fedor, Camilo Vargas, and Jacob Kushner. Their analyses ran in real-time, which you can check out here. (The project ran on new liveblogging software called Ocqur, built by three recent British university grads: Joseph Stashko, Andrew Fairbairn, and Jonathan Frost; it ran beautifully).

The idea was to report impressions of digital innovation and integration of social media into reporting as news outlets presented election results.

Among the highlights:

Shortly after 6 pm, as we got rolling, Max Rosenthal commended the “excellent election dashboards” on the sites of both NPR and Daily Beast:

Daily Beast is literally putting called races front and center: their top banner includes a countdown of the states and electoral votes yet to be called by major new organizations. The map below is also tracking which races were recently decided. It’s a smart way to sync their page with TV coverage, where everyone will be obsessed with calls.

NPR is giving their Back Channel tumblr a place right below the results area, so that readers will be able to check out memes as they wait for polls to close….
Can’t say enough good things about NPR’s Big Boards feature: well-designed single pages that give you the situation in every state and the race as a whole in a matter of seconds.

Camilo Vargas kept an eye on foreign news outlets, and early on had good words for LeMond.fr, a “visual-rich surprise.” The site’s “real piece de resistance here is their emphasis on campaign financing, or MONEYCRACY, as they call it. They devote two state-of-the-art interactive stories to campaign financing and the money flow in American elections.” But he had kind words, too, for the well designed El Pais: “LeMonde’s coverage may be fresh, fancy and deep, but El Pais in Spain is quicker in delivering the key info: Who’s winning the Presidential race?”

And The Guardian? Henry Gass told us,

The Guardian US kicked off their election day coverage with a graphic novel “America: Elect! The action-packed journey to US election day in graphic novel form” revisiting the past four years in U.S. electoral politics

The novel was fun, and a hit on social media. Five journalists at The Guardian worked on the project for two weeks, Gass reports.

What about Hispanic-oriented media here in the US?

Univision? Not so great. Vargas wrote: “Kudos on all the info, Univision, but it’s too much, too cramped, and too en inglés!”

Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing.