Our plan for America’s election

How The Economist will cover the political circus of the year

Adam Smith
Jul 26, 2016 · 4 min read

My aching legs weren’t very strong, but they somehow managed to lift me out of the canyon. On my hike I had heard about the delivery mules used by the people who lived in this part of Arizona, and I was desperate to squeeze the mules into a metaphor for George W. Bush’s election campaign. It was Fall 2004: while Bush was seeking re-election, I was an exchange student drawing on my experiences for a column in my student rag back home in Britain.

Darron Birgenheier via Flickr

Now, 12 years on, I’m in a similar set of circumstances. Today there is neither canyon nor mule in my life, but I am working for a British newspaper with a global outlook and a deep interest in American politics — one that is much more discerning of its metaphors. Oh, and it’s election season. I’ve been working out how to propel The Economist’s voice out onto social media through what is about to become a very noisy time. So I’ve written a few notes on how to do it, and I’m going to blog about it all here. Why blog? Because I want to hear your thoughts on how we’re doing, and to use live feedback from our followers so we can adapt our plans in the run-up to November 8th, the day when Americans trot to the ballot.

Our approach

Our writers and editors will do what they always do: produce expert analysis and on-the-ground reporting from the campaign trail. They’ll use our sharp, honest style. Their stories will be sober. There’s nothing particularly novel about this; we’ve been doing it since 1843. What is novel here is our 10-person social media team, which we’ve only had in place since last summer. Over the past year we’ve learnt how to adapt our voice to social media — and we’ll continue learning those lessons with our American election activity.

What’s our goal?

We’ve decided that the election presents an excellent opportunity for The Economist to build awareness of our unique brand of journalism (especially in America, which despite being our biggest single subscription market is still a land where 60% of people haven’t heard of us), and to raise the quality of the political debate. The American media is prone to flashy graphics and superficial soundbites. We hope our honest analysis can cut through.

Who are we targeting?

Our editor-in-chief describes our readers as the globally curious. Our marketing folks reckon there are 60 million such people in the world who speak English. For the purposes of sending out our US election coverage into social media, we’ve divided them into three categories:

What will we actually do?

Most of our American election content you come across on social media will be articles originally published in our newspaper or on our website. But some of it will be created especially for distribution via social media, for example, our correspondents’ live tweets and our audiograms on Facebook.

Here’s a list of ideas we’re working on. I’d love to hear what you make of them, and any ideas you may have for how we can adapt The Economist’s voice to social media.

We’ll dig into our archive and re-promote recent analyses of the destinies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and their parties. We’ve even been digging deeper and pulling out, for example, a review of Trump’s bestseller, “The Art of the Deal” from 1988. Maybe we’ll go back further and find analyses of earlier elections… remember: our archive stretches back to 1843.

One of the things I’m particularly excited about is offering our sharp analysis in shareable formats, which worked very well for our Brexit coverage. As we did for Brexit, we’ll be publishing a live poll tracker, but still need to figure out how this can offer something that readers can’t get elsewhere (any ideas?). Our Brexit mythbuster and fact cards really flew on Twitter: it would be fun to do something similar for the American election. What do you think?

Finally, we’ll be making sure we keep our sense of humour. Our witty, often sardonic style will run through content such as Kal’s cartoons and the hapless quotes we pinch from politicians. I’m still searching for a decent way to share these on our social channels. (I’ll definitely try to steer clear of terrible metaphors comparing pack mules to incumbent presidents.)

And now I’d better get to work. The election may not be until November, but the Democratic Party convention is already under way in Philadelphia. Plenty to do! Follow this blog for more updates on how we’re going to amplify our voice through the campaign. And please comment with your thoughts.

Adam Smith is deputy community editor at The Economist.

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Writer, talker, thinker and maker. Podcasting @ Karl’s Kaschemme.

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