Journalists love to talk about how essential they are to a functioning democracy, and point to their coverage of elections and government as evidence. While we’ve written a whole ’nother piece about how journalism and democracy go together, today we’re sharing some of the ways we’ve seen newsrooms engage their audiences around local elections and local government.
Take these as inspiration as you shape your coverage plans for the upcoming congressional primaries and local elections. (And if you want Hearken’s help executing a kick-ass engagement strategy for your upcoming elections coverage, here’s where to find us.)
Here are seven ways we’ve seen our partner newsrooms engaging their audiences around this crucial topic:
Gather audience questions ahead of any events and interviews with candidates:
- The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash., collected questions for school board candidates.
- New Hampshire Public Radio used Hearken to collect questions that community members had for the candidates for governor, and then used those questions during a live public forum with the candidates. After the success of that event, the newsroom continued to use Hearken to collect questions ahead of interviews with candidates and then recently-elected folks, even when those interviews were not in a live-event setting.
- During the 2016 primaries, Vermont Public Radio solicited listener questions for its debates, too.
Find out what your audience wonders about the elections as a whole:
- Five newsrooms in Texas teamed up to collect Texans’ questions about the 2016 election, with a focus on the Texas races. They answered some questions as whole stories, and also did a roundup piece with some of the shorter answers to questions. The collaboration went so well, the project continued after the election to collect and answer questions about the Texas Legislature.
- And currently, WDET is collecting its audience’s questions about “elections, ballot proposals and campaigns in Michigan.” WDET has teamed up with the Citizens Research Council to answer the questions that come in.
Listen to questions to identify what topics might be most commonly misunderstood:
- The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC News) used Hearken last year in advance of Australia’s big federal election. In less than two months, the newsroom collected more than 2,400 questions from people across the country, and reported out answers to a dozen of the best questions. To narrow down to the questions the audience most cared about, the newsroom held three voting rounds.
Invite your audience to tell you what they’d like in a voter guide:
- Washington, D.C., radio station WAMU asked its readers and listeners to help it choose which issues to include in its voter guide. The messaging to the audience made it clear that the station was looking for questions relating to local races (and lists the races), not the 2016 presidential race. WAMU also smartly sent an email to its members to let them know about the effort.
Help the audience understand the roles of elected officials:
Several newsrooms have found audience members sending in questions about the responsibilities and powers of the people they vote into office. A few examples:
- BBC: What budgetary powers will the new mayor have and will they have any input setting council taxes?
- St. Louis Public Radio: What does the mayor of St. Louis actually do?
- WNPR: Why Doesn’t My Town Have A Mayor? Answering Your Questions On Town Government
- KUT: What Are the Powers of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Legislature in Texas?
Share answers to your audience’s questions about how they can (or can’t) vote:
As election day approaches, audience members will be thinking about what they need to do to vote. (Often at the last possible minute, of course.) And soon after election day, people will reflect on how easy or difficult voting was, and will have questions about why it’s done the way it’s done.
- Texas Tribune: Why can’t all Texans vote by mail?
- St. Louis Public Radio: Here are the top Curious Louis submitted questions about voter ID
- Michigan Radio: Do I have to present my voter registration card at the polling station?
- KUT: Can We Vote For Third Party Candidates In Texas?
- Australian Broadcasting Company: Why have voters not had access to electronic voting?
Once the election is over, keep answering questions about how the government works:
You love to keep those in power accountable. Believe it or not, your audience would like to be involved with this, too. Here are some of the smart questions people ask about their elected representatives:
Want to learn how to better engage the public? Download our free engagement checklist guide.
To read next:
- Your audience is wicked smart and will ask serious questions. Here are 50 examples as proof.
- Uncertainty and civic curiosity: How 6 newsrooms are using Hearken to serve their audiences in Trump’s America
- When should newsrooms not use Facebook for audience engagement? When they actually want to make money.