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French presidential election: A multimedia team with its ear to the ground

Portraits of the 11 candidates in the French presidential election. From top to bottom, in alphabetical order: Nathalie Arthaud, François Asselineau, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, François Fillon, Benoît Hamon, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Philippe Poutou. © Joël SAGET / Eric FEFERBERG / AFP

The campaign for the French presidential election was expected to be unpredictable and full of twists and turns. It did not disappoint. Throughout the campaigns, which lasted nearly a year if the primaries are taken into account, AFP provided rich and innovative coverage, focused on the reality on the ground and involving journalists from all professions from the politics service to regional offices.

"The team was drawn up after learning lessons from Brexit and Donald Trump's election, shocks the media did not see coming and which sparked an internal debate at the Agency," says Jean-Luc Bardet, Editor-in-Chief for France. "This debate confirmed the idea that we need to be out on the ground more, giving readers the key information to understand the issues and fight against fake news."

The priority was to convey the concerns and expectations of the French people for the presidential term ahead, via multimedia reporting throughout France.

AFP went to talk to the people and the result was a six-week series entitled "what do voters expect", six interviews published every Thursday covering a wide range of topics.

"We wanted to show as representative a range as possible of the French people by interviewing voters on their home turf: a nurse in a hospital, a farmer in the fields, a restaurant-owner in his restaurant, a Whirlpool worker, the mother of a large family, a senior executive, a pensioner, a homeless person … all with their voting card in their hands," says Jean-Luc Bardet. Once they were published, the 36 texts and photos were brought together in an interactive graphic.

The photo department came up with this idea and also distinguished themselves by producing portraits of the candidates. "Our specialist Joël Saget photographed all the candidates in our studio -- with the exception of Emmanuel Macron who was photographed by Eric Feferberg at a rally," explains Olivier Morin, Chief Photo Editor for France. "These pictures were shown everywhere in France and abroad. Every time the media mentioned the campaign, they were using our pictures, which were really exceptional," he says, hailing this successful foray into posed images.

Data journalism provided another new strand to the coverage. The Agency built an internal database specifically for the election. Created in September 2016, when the centre-right held its primary, this database was updated over the weeks and ended up with around 5,000 policy proposals from the candidates. This became an essential tool for writing analysis stories or composing graphics and for quickly checking facts, especially during the election debates.

"The idea was to create a tool that could be used by several different departments in the newsroom and a database of content that could be sorted into categories for interactive applications," explains Vincent Drouin, Deputy in the Multimedia Archives Department. "The first app was launched during the first centre-right primary. By clicking on a photo of the candidates, the user could compare their manifestos on key issues." Several others followed, from the manifestos of the Socialist candidates to the presidential election, finishing with a look back at the record of François Hollande. There were even fun quizzes on each of the elections.

This database was still operational even after the election. "It can always be updated," notes Vincent Drouin. "We can check, for example, if Emmanuel Macron is sticking to his manifesto," he says, noting that the tool can help with fact checking.

This fact checking is being used in the context of the CrossCheck project, battling against the spread of fake news online. This collaborative tool, which AFP is involved in, has already enabled us to debunk 67 pieces of dubious information circulating on social media.

Jean-Luc Bardet

Jean-Luc Bardet

Editor-in-Chief for France

Olivier Morin

Olivier Morin

Chief Photo Editor for France

Vincent Drouin

Vincent Drouin

Deputy in the Multimedia Archives Department