Using modest Pew funding, Missoulian reporter Rob Chaney refitted three government surplus computers to become portable polling kiosks, suitable for gathering instant reaction to news events or for determining which issues voters are most interested in.
Software installed in the computers allowed Chaney to program in survey questions on any topic and choose the type of answer he wanted - multiple choice, true-false, short answer - even essay questions. The computers were placed in simple wooden cabinets so they could be taken anywhere - senior citizen centers, high school cafeterias, even street corners if a power supply was available.
Originally conceived as an election coverage tool, the computers turned out to have a number of uses. When firefighters from all over the West raced to stop forest fires raging in Montana, Chaney took a kiosk to the Ninemile Fire Camp and collected comments from 50 people about the rigors of battling the blazes. After a Hell's Angels gathering near Missoula resulted in a near riot, Chaney conducted a flash survey near the scene of the clash and turned up several eyewitnesses among respondents, who left their names and phone numbers for more extensive follow up interviews.
Chaney used the results of the kiosk surveys in several different ways. Voter responses on issues surveys helped guide his election coverage. Sometimes specific comments from the kiosks were used in stories. Occasionally, Chaney devoted an entire story to the responses the kiosks generated, such as the one featuring the sometimes humorous and sometimes touching observations of the firefighters trying to save Montana forest.
Local Government Reporter
The Missoulian Newspaper
500 S. Higgins
Missoula, MT 59801
Phone: (406) 523-5382