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Lies, damned lies and the CNN Politics App

George Nott | June 21, 2017
CNN Digital's head of products John Hashimoto discusses the US media giant's first, and maybe last, mobile-only experience.

There are 'lies, damned lies, and statistics' goes the old adage. But in the era of so-called ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, raw data is proving a more valued source of information than our partisan politicians and media outlets.

In the build up to an election, especially last year’s presidential race in the US, the truth seems more difficult to find than ever.

It was with this thinking in April last year that CNN launched its Politics app: a data-centric app to tell the ‘story of every twist and turn of the race for the White House’.

Stood up in less than three months, the app – CNN’s first ever mobile-only experience – scored 400,000 downloads in the month of election and became the go-to feed for the latest figures and analysis.

As well as the data it serves users, behind the scenes, data drives the app's development which continues to this day. Back-end analytics have given CNN insights into how users digest the news, the interaction between its channels, and now help guide the company as a modern media brand.

"I don't think there's any doubt in the company that this app, like our political coverage overall, is just so part of who CNN is and who CNN will continue to be," John Hashimoto, CNN Digital's head of products, told Computerworld.

 

The data election

Early on in the build up to the 2016 presidential vote, CNN defined it as ‘the data election’.

"Last year's election was a story that could be told through data and data insights. And that's not surprising. This is a trend right. Data is a big thing these days and certainly has been for political races for the last couple of elections,” Hashimoto explains.

The editorial team – based in Atlanta, Georgia – sought to create an election ‘utility’ that would serve up "real quick, let me see the highlights" data visualisations, as Hashimoto puts it, plus deeper dive analysis if required.

"The proposition was: ‘Whose winning right now and why is she or he winning?’ That kind of simplified approach. This app was aimed as much at influencers and people who are political junkies, as a general audience. We wanted to make it something like a utility – every day, a barometer of sorts of what's going on in election today, in this very, very seesaw election. That was the goal.”

CNN’s product studio worked with CA Technologies to draw up some options for how the app might function, putting them before the editorial and business executives. After they “all circled the same one” work began immediately to meet a three month deadline.

 

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