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Election night TV coverage beat Twitter by a long shot

According to Twitter, there were 31 million tweets on Election Day, with the site hitting a peak of 327,452 tweets-per-minute the moment TV networks called the race for President Obama. That was a record pace for the micro-blogging network, and the company considers it a point of pride that Twitter never once went down during the surge.

Yet if you wanted to keep close tabs on who was winning Tuesday night, Twitter failed you. The same goes for much of the rest of the web. The best way to figure out what was going on was to go old-school: Turn on the news, sit back, and relax.

TV’s best election geeks –especially CNN’s John King and NBC’s Chuck Todd – were faster, more accurate and more thoughtful than most sources you could find online. Throughout the night, they told you where Obama was doing well, where Mitt Romney was weak, what was going on with congressional races and why specific returns in specific swing counties across the nation mattered. With King’s “Magic Wall” – the data-spewing touchscreen map that he operated with the facility of a tweaked-out gamer – and with its live, exclusive reports on the vote count from important polling places in battleground states, CNN became something like a televised version of polling maestro Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times.

TV’s triumph over Twitter was surprising. For the rest of the campaign, Twitter was the center of the political universe. Twitter’s zenith came during the three presidential debates. Even while Obama and Romney were speaking, its clever, politically minded hordes would fact-check and grade their performances in real time. Twitter also revealed its strengths during superstorm Sandy, directing people to information that was targeted to their needs.

Unlike the storm or the debates, Election Night played to TV’s strengths. The networks knew where to deploy their people, and they had specific expertise on staff. Any citizen journalist can report from a storm, and anyone who was watching that first debate could have opined on Obama’s terrible performance, but it takes an election expert to tell you why Hillsborough County, Fla., is crucial to the electoral math, and it takes money and access to send a reporter to monitor the vote tally in that county and report what they’re seeing right now.

The good thing is that you don’t have to choose between Twitter and TV. Everyone who was following Twitter on Tuesday night was also watching the tube, and that was true of the debates, too. Like peanut butter and jelly, the two are better together.

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