Newsrooms: Prepare For The Election To Go Off The Rails

Jennifer Brandel
Oct 27, 2020 · 4 min read

If you’re covering the US elections and you haven’t prepared for it to go utterly off the rails, then you’re not ready.

What exactly do we mean by “off the rails?”

  • Extended and widespread misinformation campaigns
  • Hundreds of decisions tied up in lawsuits
  • No clear winner for weeks / months for multiple races
  • Widespread political violence & unlawful militia activity
  • Extreme anxiety and emotional trauma inflicted on the American people
  • COVID super-spreading and hospital overwhelm
  • Election system hacking and subterfuge
  • Widespread confusion and mistrust among the public
  • Executive orders signed that weaken the foundation of civil service and government
  • Stock market tumbles
  • The Supreme Court ultimately deciding the president
  • Plus … new threats that have not even entered the public radar yet

Are we being alarmist? Why listen to me or Hearken on this? Because we’ve been working since May to listen to and connect with civic and election officials and experts, and to package their insights to support newsrooms in this absurdly difficult time. We’ve collated all of these resources into Election SOS a non-partisan initiative to support journalists in collaboration with Trusting News and The American Press Institute.

In speaking to newsrooms recently, we’ve been alarmed by, well, how unalarmed they are, and how uninformed they are about the threats.

Image for post
Image for post

We know it’s deeply uncomfortable to add to the stress of your life in *these times* all of the ways democracy and American values can come crashing down in the next week and months to follow, but the country is depending on you.

The press plays an outsized role in this critical moment: helping people understand what is happening, why it’s happening, how big or small threats are, in keeping the peace, and — most importantly — in not making things worse by stoking the flames of anxiety.

It’s an unfortunate reality that the most responsibility that those working in media have ever had on their shoulders coincides with a period of being chronically understaffed and under resourced, during a global pandemic, and with threats never before encountered to a free, fair, and safe election in the U.S.

Choosing to hope or believe that if the election night vote is sufficiently clear that the election is pretty much over, is being out of touch with reality. And you’re not prepared to do right by the people you’re serving.

We give you this tough love not to make you feel overly responsible or overwhelmed, but to help you take these precious hours and days ahead of the election to focus on what’s in your control, and to get your shit together.

Along with this tough love we’re supplying you resources, coverage guidance, expert support, a network and newsletter to help you. At Election SOS, we’ve been working day and night gathering everything you need to do your impossible jobs during this impossible time.

One particular resource we want you to look at, bookmark, download and share NOW is our free Scenario Planning Guide.

Why we made this guide

  • The goal of the guide is to enable journalists to be proactive rather than reactive when covering the election
  • To save you and your colleagues precious time and energy thinking of everything you need to prepare for
  • To not just deliver fresh worries, but to supply you with resources, actions and ways to be ahead of and mitigate disaster

Election day is a day of extreme imbalance — journalists experience the highest demand for news from the public and have the lowest supply because there’s nothing but speculation to report until the polls close.

One of the most important roles that you and your newsroom can play at this fragile, fraught moment, is to stay calm, not cause panic and not ratchet up drama, even if your business model rewards it. Reading through the Election SOS Scenario Planning Guide may very well make you and your colleagues’ blood pressures rise. Please know it’s not our intention to do that, or for you to pass along those feelings to the public. Our goal is to help you think through and plan for a variety of threats and opportunities so you’re not left scrambling in the moment to react and so that you can give your audiences news they can use to navigate the election process.

Download the guide now, fill it out with your colleagues, do what you can. And thank you for your service.

This post was co-authored by Election SOS Digital Producer, Yemile Bucay.

We Are Hearken

The Hearken team's thoughts on journalism, engagement, and…

Jennifer Brandel

Written by

Accidental journalist turned CEO of a tech-enabled company called Hearken. Founder of @WBEZCuriousCity Find me: @JenniferBrandel @wearehearken wearehearken.com

We Are Hearken

The Hearken team's thoughts on journalism, engagement, and tech. Hearken means: to listen. We believe that listening to your audience first, not last, makes for better everything. We're here to help: http://www.wearehearken.com/

Jennifer Brandel

Written by

Accidental journalist turned CEO of a tech-enabled company called Hearken. Founder of @WBEZCuriousCity Find me: @JenniferBrandel @wearehearken wearehearken.com

We Are Hearken

The Hearken team's thoughts on journalism, engagement, and tech. Hearken means: to listen. We believe that listening to your audience first, not last, makes for better everything. We're here to help: http://www.wearehearken.com/

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store