Santa Cruz Local: Listening to voters and holding politicians accountable

Combining engagement, solutions journalism, transparency and trust to re-imagine elections coverage


The Challenge

Too much political coverage is horse-race coverage that focuses on politicians and pundits, which research shows decreases trust in candidates and news organizations.  News organizations such as Santa Cruz Local, a small, digital newsroom in California, are putting their audiences first, and using solutions journalism as one way to hold local officials accountable to solving important problems.

The Strategy

Santa Cruz Local, owned and led by local journalists, initiated its People’s Agenda in 2020, gathering audience input through online surveys and attendance at community events. It publishes the public’s top priorities, questions politicians about them in forums and for its voters’ guide, then asks the question ‘Who’s doing it better?’ That question has led them, sing the techniques of solutions journalism, to explore ways that other communities are addressing issues like police violence and homelessness and what it would take to bring those models to Santa Cruz County.

The Outcomes

Santa Cruz Local’s audience has responded very favorably to the Local’s People’s Agenda coverage and wants more of it.  “We constantly survey our readers and listeners, and interview our members,” the Local’s staff says, and “they tell us they want more solutions journalism and appreciate our listening work – it surfaces voices and stories they don’t hear elsewhere.”  Their audience also is willing to support it. For example, the newsroom raised $20,000 from readers in about a month’s time to fund its Solutions to Homelessness series.  Its coverage also has sparked discussion about whether to bring an Oregon model for reducing police violence to Santa Cruz County.  The Solutions to Homelessness series also won an Outstanding Coverage of the Year award from LION publishers.

The Lessons

Community-centered, solutions focused coverage can increase civic engagement, build trust and help news organizations stay afloat. It also can help foster important changes that can make communities better.

The Future

Santa Cruz Local plans to continue its community-centered, solutions approach into the foreseeable future.

Learn More

Santa Cruz Local participated in the Citizens Solutions initiative supported by The Solutions Journalism Network and Hearken, which combined skills in deep community listening with solutions journalism. Contact Solutions Journalism Network for resources that support rigorous reporting into responses to social problems, Hearken for strategies for community engagement and Trusting News for how to build transparency.