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Candidates face grilling from weekly readers in online hustings

Election candidates were grilled in a live debate held at the offices of a weekly newspaper.

A sextet of prospective MPs, standing in the North Devon constituency, were quizzed by readers of the North Devon Gazette during the hustings, with reporters Sarah Howells and Elliot Anderton fielding the questions on a live web text feed.

The feed, which had been promoted by the Gazette on social media beforehand, drew 191 unique users to its site during the debate, held on 26 March evening at the paper’s Barnstaple office.

The candidates answered questions by replying on the feed, pictured below, and were encouraged to respond to each other’s answers.

North Devon

Said Sarah: “Luckily, because we were sat with the candidates we could monitor when everyone had stopped typing, and we were also able to encourage them to respond to each other’s answers.

“Once they got the hang of the feed they loved it – and there was even a bit of offline banter too, which was great. And we managed to find a bell so when they got chatting or distracted, we rang it just before posting the next question.

“This added some humour to an otherwise intense evening.”

Editor Andy Keeble added: “There was some very interesting debate on the night and a wide range of local, national and international topics covered during the two hours.

“Considering what’s at stake on 7 May, there was also some great humour among the rivals.”

The Gazette’s parent company Archant announced last month it was setting up a special elections unit to share resources and ideas across its titles, headed up by its political editor Annabelle Dickson.

She said: “The North Devon Gazette has led the way in holding the first of many online question and answer events for the election, with many more set to take place across the group over the coming weeks.

“This is a great example of how the wealth of expertise and ideas across the group can be shared.”