On election night, the Santa Cruz County Supervisors race in the 5th District was a virtual tie. Bruce McPherson led by 26 votes over Eric Hammer – with 6,500 absentee votes to count. Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin ran some numbers and made a prediction that McPherson would win by 231 votes. Turned out he won by 245.
Jason was asked to share some of his homework on how he become the Nate Silver of Santa Cruz County’s biggest political race. Here’s what he said:
Not sure if you’d categorize this one as dumb or smart, but the result worked out so we’ll call it smart. Here’s how we “called” (OK, we said the apparent eventual winner had “reasons for optimism”) an election with 26 votes separating two candidates and 6,500 absentees still to tally. Before you scoff that it’s too simple, we were off by a grand total of 14 votes.
It was actually pretty basic, with an assist from an elections office that has come to expect detailed requests from us. When the dust settled on election night, we had results by polling place, broken out into several categories, including the number of in-person ballots and results and the number of vote-by-mail ballots and results.
Deciding that the absentees to be counted would break much like those absentees already cast (instead of in-person voters, which one campaign somewhat wishfully expected), we created a spreadsheet. For each polling place we analyzed the split of already-counted absentees. Two days after the election, the county clerk was able to supply us with the raw numbers of ballots from each precinct (in many cases, I had to combine precincts to get the total number for each polling place, since several precincts often make up one polling place).
From there, we ran the numbers. Applying ratios from already-counted absentee ballots to pending absentee ballots, we came up with expected results for each polling place. Then we added those together. We also reduced both totals by 8 percent — the difference between all counted ballots within this supervisorial district and the total number of votes in this particular race (in other words, the dropoff rate).
That’s it. We predicted that when the counting was over, Candidate A would have a lead of 231 votes over Candidate B. It ended up being 245. I’m sure part of this is luck, but we had a pretty big sample size on which to run our projections. In the end it worked out. -Jason
At the Sentinel, we’re doing more with video almost every day.
Two of our ongoing projects are up and running and gaining momentum. Assistant Sports Editor Jim Seimas and reporter Andrew Matheson have been previewing and reviewing each weekend’s football games.
I have to say, I’m not the biggest fan of video of reporters in a room talking about actual action. But Seimas and Matheson, with help from designer/photographer/video editor Tony Solis have taken this to an art form. Best production values ever for the genre! Have a look:
We’ve also added artist Kirby Scudder as a regular columnist to the Sentinel’s weekly Guide. Along with his column, he also produces a video profile every week of a Santa Cruz artist. We want to help Kirby with his mission of spreading the word about the arts community in Santa Cruz, one of the best in the country. Have a look at the playlist.
One other video note: Photographer Kevin Johnson (with reporter J.M. Brown) has done some really nice work on putting together four videos that help sort through what’s happening with the desalination project in Santa Cruz. We launch that project tomorrow.
For the first time, the Sentinel is asking its readers to vote on the best of all things in Santa Cruz County. All voting will be done online, you’ll be able to follow the votes, and we’ll publish a special section in October, featuring winners in more than 50 categories throughout the county.
We’ve divided the county into four geographic regions, and broke down categories with a variety of polls in every category. You can vote at www.santacruzsentinel.com/readerschoice, or at http://sentinelreaderschoice.com. You can vote in as many polls as you’d like, but only one vote per poll. If you have a handful of devices — phone, laptop, iPad, etc. — you’ll be allowed one vote per poll per device, and we’ve tried to design the pages to be friendly with all your gear.
We hope you share and enjoy with your friends, and rally around your favorite places, write in the spots we’ve missed, and let us know what you think of the poll and site. Voting begins Sunday, Sept. 16 and runs through the end of the month.
We’ve been working in a lot of directions on the Sentinel website. You’ll continue to see changes over time, but here are a few that have gone live in the past couple weeks and a few that are in the works. We’re doing our best to connect with your local story, your voice, and being accessible in as many ways as possible.
Media Center: Digital First launched the WordPress based Media Center just before the Olympics. It will allow us to make the most of our local photos in a wide variety of formats (including tablet) and also to bring readers the best shots from around the world on a daily basis.
Presidential Election coverage: New site includes the latest on the Presidential election, local election stories, and content from partners including MediaNews organizations, Pro Publica, The Atlantic, National Journal, and Democracy Live. We’ll also link out to blogs including the New York Times FiveThirtyEight and many more. Readers can also find our local elections coverage, endorsements and voter information broken down in more detail on our elections page, and we’ll carry live local and state results in November.
Readers Choice awards: We’re launching the Sentinel’s first-ever readers choice awards, asking your opinion in hundreds of categories. All voting will be online and we’re building the voting platform now for any device you choose.
iPad app rollout this month: The Sentinel’s iPhone app, launched in February has been popular. More than 3 million page views since its launch. We see even more potential for the iPad app, scheduled to be launched this month in the iTunes store. For a look at the format, check out the Denver Post’s (free) app for iPad.
Redesign: Long-awaited, you’ll see a full redesign of the website in the months ahead.
New content management system: Again, long-awaited inside the newsroom, the new CMS will give us better tools for sharing content with partners, building partnerships in the community, publishing in a wide variety of formats and connecting more kinds of digital content. It’s also integrated with the print content management system, and includes a commenting system through Disqus. Stay tuned on this.
A new toolbar: At the bottom of every page, we’ve updated a toolbar, to include latest headlines, story suggestions, display ads and national content from Digital First (currently from American Homecomings). The updated version is also less intrusive and quicker to load, and also shows readers the “next” story on article pages.
Football season:More live results, more photos, video, a special section and a redesigned Football page.
The Community Media Lab: With all these other projects on our list, we haven’t given the Media Lab the attention it deserves. Still our lab has more than 150 local participants. We’re working on a project to give Santa Cruz artists prominent connections. We’re also working with bloggers writing short profiles of other bloggers, and featuring the best weekly content every Friday.
Cold Water Classic: This year’s event may be the biggest surf event in Santa Cruz history, as we become the focus of the professional surfing world. We’re collaborating with the Santa Cruz Waves team, planning to go all out.
Instagram: We’re just getting warmed up on Instagram, but our longtime photo staffers Dan Coyro and Shmuel Thaler both recently adopted iPhones and are exploring the possibilities. Follow us (@scsentinel), and stay tuned for contests, photo walks and more.
The Sentinel website received 3,521,933 page views and 476,167 unique visitors in the month of June. Both of those are up slightly from June, 2011. Here are the most viewed stories or pages during the month:
We also received 552,484 page views on our news apps (free on iPhone and Google Play), and 1,398 new downloads of the apps.
On YouTube, we received more than 16,000 video views, most popular was Nick Wallenda’s walk on the Boardwalk ferris wheel, but second was the reunion of a Marine and his son, upon his return from Afghanistan:
We also received nearly 45,000 views on Flickr and added more than 200 followers on Instagram (@scsentinel). Thanks for connecting with the Sentinel online!
The Santa Cruz Community Media Lab had its third gathering Thursday. Fifteen bloggers stopped by Cruzio to talk about their latest work, technology, tools and adventures.
Sentinel reporter Jessica Pasko, who covers cops and courts for the Sentinel, and also writes the Lost on the Left Coast blog and maintains her own food blog was the guest speaker and talked about the way she reads, interacts and writes for the online world.
She talked about the power of authentic personal stories, making connections and friends with bloggers she discovered online and techniques for sharing through social media.
Here’s the roster of attendees and links to their blogs.