Hundreds of journalists across the country participate in U.S. Democracy Day 2023
Newsrooms joined forces for a historic, nationwide, pro-democracy reporting collaboration
If you’ve been paying attention to the buzz in journalism even casually lately, then you probably know there’s one word that’s been at the top of journalists’ minds: democracy.
Last week, that buzz reached a crescendo as scores of news organizations across the country came together on Sept. 15 to collectively publish, broadcast, share and highlight pro-democracy journalism as part of U.S. Democracy Day 2023.
With democracy on the ballot, the mainstream press must change its ways | Margaret Sullivan
The American press is failing to adequately emphasize the stakes of the coming election
Democracy Day is a nationwide, pro-democracy reporting collaborative that involves a tapestry of stories, investigations and deep dives into the core of American democracy and the systems that undergird it, woven together by collaborations between and among local and national newsrooms.
U.S. Democracy Day is not just another one-off reporting project — it represents another step in a larger, more lasting dance with American democracy and what it could look like in the near future. The collaboration seeks to shine a light on the cracks in our democratic foundations and threats to its legitimacy, while also spotlighting the masons repairing those cracks, brick by brick.
Power to the press: The enduring impact of Democracy Day
Imagine you’re an editor at a nonprofit newsroom in Arizona, and you uncover a story about an obscure election official becoming the target of political activists. Normally, the impact of that crucial reporting may not extend beyond state lines, but U.S. Democracy Day helps to expand the influence and reach of such investigations.
As part of this collaborative initiative, newsrooms had the option to make their reporting available for republication, and additional freelancers were also brought in to investigate and cover similar issues in other states. Stories then get picked up by newsrooms across the country, and suddenly, an obscure official in Arizona becomes a national conversation — all thanks to the beauty of collaboration.
From Votebeat’s dive into Arizona politics and The Kansas City Star’s guide on fact-checking campaign mailers, to the Orlando Sentinel and Floodlight’s investigation on how a utility’s silent spending to control energy policy might determine abortion rights in Florida and the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism and OpenSecrets’ eye-opening exposé on dark money in Virginia campaigns, U.S. Democracy Day empowered newsrooms to take big swings, knowing they had the power of a collaborative to back them up.
We didn’t stop there.
Jane Elizabeth of Consult Creative LLC also released The Democracy Infusion Project, which handed journalism educators a treasure trove of classroom resources that combine standard reporting curriculum with civics lessons to train new journalists on democracy and the myriad ways the press interacts with it.
Speaking of blueprints, check out The Objective, a nonprofit watchdog newsroom that took the idea of a “democracy beat” and ran with it. In 2022, the Community Info Coop partnered with The Objective to launch a democracy beat. In 2023, The Objective has two part-time staff members actively covering media democracy, backed by $20,000 in seed funding. Here’s the road map for how they did it.
And let’s not forget about inewsource, which launched its own local chapter of the Documenters program to give residents in San Diego County an opportunity to witness local government at work and get paid for it on Democracy Day. The program is built on the idea that public meetings such as city councils, utility boards, and school boards are workshops for democracy, where residents can observe, learn about, and act on the systems that impact their lives.
Just a few more notable stories from our reporting partners
- The Guardian: Trump’s Georgia charges thrust Coffee county in to the spotlight. Its people seek accountability
- Drilled: Meet the Shadowy Global Network Villifying Climate Protestors
- The Daily Yonder: Election Deniers Focus Recruitment in ‘Out of the Way Places’
- KPBS: 2023 Special Election Voter Hub
- Texas Tribune: Taxes, state parks, infrastructure: What you need to know about the Nov. 7 constitutional amendments election
- Spotlight PA: How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2023 general election
- Enlace NC x Carolina Public Press: Latino votes drop in N.C.: Why it happened and why some Latinos are voting Republican (en Español) ; Podcast (en Español)
- The Charlotte Observer: Charlotte City Council likely violated NC meetings law with manager raise, attorneys say
- Maryland Matters: Should the ballot box be 18-plus? Maryland advocates are pressing for a lower voting age in local elections
- Signal Cleveland: “Hope at the door”: Greater Cleveland Congregations combines old-school canvassing with data analysis to reach “depressed” voters
- Bay City News: Little understood civil grand juries labor in obscurity to hold government accountable
- Tucson Sentinel: Arizona’s ‘election bible’ set for update, but not without controversy
- Michigan Advance: Michigan has made big strides on voting rights. Here’s what to expect next.
U.S. Democracy Day by the numbers
- Democracy Day teamed up with 136 individual organizations in 2023, which includes the Gannett/USA TODAY, McClatchy and States Newsroom networks. That’s fewer than in 2022 (when we had more than 180 partners), but this vast network enabled a far-reaching impact that no single newsroom could achieve alone.
- In total, 135 original stories were submitted to the Democracy Day, not including those we will collect via web scrapers and search queries.
- Additionally, 106 (nearly 79%) of the stories submitted were made available for republication at no cost to other reporting partners, further amplifying their reach.
- Most of the stories made available for republication were from States Newsroom partners. In total, 43 stories were republished by news organizations other than the original reporting partner.
- The most republished original story was this one about Democracy Day from the Kentucky Lantern (States Newsroom).
- The U.S. Democracy Day organizers also commissioned 11 freelance stories, making them available for free to any reporting partner wishing to republish them. These freelance pieces added unique perspectives and filled gaps in the coverage.
- 10 newsrooms collaborated on 5 reporting projects including some pretty big swings, this deep dive into how far election deniers will go to target officials in Arizona from Votebeat and The Guardian and this investigation from Floodlight and The Orlando Sentinel that unpacks the connection between a utility and abortion rights.
- Newsrooms from least 40 U.S. states participated in the collaboration.
🔥 You can also read what media critic Dan Froomkin had to say about Democracy Day over at Press Watch.
Democracy coverage is falling disastrously short | Press Watch
It's Democracy Day — and a very unhappy Democracy Day to you!
Looking ahead to Democracy Day 2024 and beyond
The work certainly doesn’t stop now that the big day is behind us. Democracy should be a verb, not just a buzzword for people who want to sound like they care about the Important Issue™ of the day.
This collaborative reporting initiative amplified underreported issues, solutions, and unsung heroes of democracy, but those topics should not remain uncovered for the 364 days of the year.
As we close the chapter on U.S. Democracy Day 2023, let’s also not forget the roadmap laid out before us. This initiative has shown us what’s possible when we tear down the walls between newsrooms and work together. It’s not just a model for future collaborations; it’s a clarion call for a more unified, more impactful form of journalism.
Plans for U.S. Democracy Day 2024 already include further expansion of our network of reporting partners and exploring innovative storytelling formats. We’re also looking to deepen our engagement with audiences through interactive journalism and more community-driven reporting.
The collaborative’s future also (hopefully) holds the promise of greater financial sustainability and support. With a track record of impactful journalism and a broad and diverse network of partners, Democracy Day is looking for additional funding and resources to ensure that it remains a mainstay in American journalism for years to come. If you are interested in funding it for 2024, we need you as we don’t yet have funding committed. Email Stefanie Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together, we’ve shown that when newsrooms unite, they can create something far more potent than any individual journalist or newsroom could achieve on its own.
About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with operational and project funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, NJ Civic Information Consortium, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and the Independence Public Media Foundation. For more information, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.