By: LAURA HUMBLE – STAFF WRITER
This past CentreTerm, several students designed and created a website, Commonwealth Duel, as part of visiting professor and host of KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” Bill Goodman’s class, “Politics and Journalism in the Age of Social Media.” The goal of the website is to cover the upcoming U.S. Senate race in Kentucky.
“It’s a highly contested race, and will likely be the most expensive Senate race of all time … We began covering [it] because of our CentreTerm class, and that had us create the website, which evolved into something we plan on continuing,” senior and co-creator of the website Mary Tanner said.
The design of Commonwealth Duel was in response to an assignment made by Goodman. “The purpose of the assignment was to challenge the students to come up with a new method of social media – an app, website, or podcast that might be used to cover the Senate race, something the students, using what we had discussed in class regarding journalism and politics, would come up with on their own,” Goodman said.
“We were charged to cover the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky in a way it hasn’t been covered before. Commonwealth Duel … was kind of our solution to that. The thing we found when looking for information on the U.S. Senate race is that there is a lot of national attention, a lot of coverage in the statewide newspapers, but there’s no site that’s aggregating that information…” senior and co-creator Jordan Shewmaker said.
The value of the website is immediately apparent when you first pull it up. The home screen features Twitter feeds involving all three main candidates of the race: Allison Lundergan Grimes, Mitch McConnell, and Matt Bevin. It also provides background on all of the candidates, summarizeing their views on contested political issues, and gives a timeline of important moments in the race as well as a wealth of other useful information.
“We’re not trying to do any original reporting as far as writing our own articles … but what we want to do is take what’s already out there and put it in a way that’s useful to people,” Shewmaker said.
It is a novel idea, and one which the students involved in creating it, which in addition to Tanner and Shewmaker include junior Mary Burger, sophomore Sean Dunn, sophomore Hayley Hoffman, and senior Austin Jones, are very proud of. “We’re proud of what we developed for students who have very little background in website design and have used very limited funds,” Shewmaker said.
Hoffman did most of the website design on the web-hosting service Weebly. All of the students contributed their varying skills to the content, creating a collaborative, diverse final product with no particular affiliation with any candidate. “It’s fairly politically neutral. We have both Democrats and Republicans on our team, and span a wide range of political views,” Tanner said. “It was not our intention to be pandering to a certain candidate.”
Goodman is also very proud of the website. “I’m proud to say that I had very little to do with the final product … this was their work from start to finish,” Goodman said.
Their work won a class-wide competition overseen by a panel of judges that included Centre College’s Pierce and Amelia Harrington Lively Professor of Politics and Law, Pre-law Advisor, and Chair of the Politics Program Dr. Daniel Stroup, J. Rice Cowan Professor of English, Director of International Programs, and Special Assistant to the President Dr. Milton Reigelman, and KET Comm. Coordinator Abby Malik. This win inspired the group to pursue their website even further. “Five of us traveled to KET [because] Bill had coordinated for us to make a pitch … to see where we can go from here,” Tanner said.
A possibility for partnership may be open to the group, but for now they are keeping their options open. “We plan on staying with it, through November, and even after. We’re exploring the possibility of covering other races in Kentucky in the future,” Tanner said. She and Shewmaker both expressed a desire to continue collaborating on Commonwealth Duel after graduation in May.
For now, they’re looking for feedback. “We want to make it more interactive. We’re considering a blog system or a forum,” Shewmaker said.
Essentially, they want a way for the public to be able to express their opinions on the Senate race. This appears to be their next step towards a promising future.
Interested readers may visit the Commonwealth Duel at http://commonwealthduel.weebly.com.