Spotlight PA: Putting Pennsylvania voters first 2022 midterm coverage

Using The Citizens Agenda, transparency and trust techniques alongside innovative distribution to help Pennsylvanians

The Challenge

Pennsylvania’s elections are highly competitive, and much of the coverage is focused on polling and the “horse race.” This style of coverage can lead to increased partisanship, confusion, and ultimately make it easier for misinformation to proliferate. Spotlight PA wanted to move away from this strategy and take an issue-oriented, public service approach to their coverage.

The Strategy

Spotlight created the “Election Center,” a centralized page on its website to keep Pennsylvanians informed about the candidates, issues, and policies at the forefront of this year’s races. The Election Center also has easy links to help visitors register to vote, check their registration status, locate a polling place, request a mail ballot, and contact their county election office. The organization published a number of voter guides, including basic guide to candidates in statewide races, tips on how to become a poll worker, and instructions for how to vote by mail. Spotlight PA also decided to translate most of its voting guides into Spanish for the first time by working with a contracted translator and editor.

For the governor’s race, Spotlight PA published a series called “One Vote, Two Pennsylvanias,” which illustrates where the two candidates for governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican Doug Mastriano, stand on key issues such as the criminal justice system, LGBTQ rights, higher education, the environment, and more.

To make this work and their motivations more transparent, Christopher Baxter, executive director and editor in chief, and Sarah Anne Highes, deputy editor, published an article explaining their election coverage approach and insight on why their team is staying away from poll-based coverage.

The Outcomes

Spotlight PA is filling coverage gaps across the state and distributing their work for free to 90 partners across Pennsylvania. Five of those partners are Spanish-language publications, which picked up and reshared Spotlight’s Spanish voter guides.

The Lessons

The Future

People want clear, accessible, issue-based, nonpartisan coverage of elections at all levels.

“Generally, from our standpoint of subscribers, numbers, and feedback, there’s just a tremendous hunger for more issue-oriented public service coverage of elections,” Baxter said.

Ahead of the 2024 election, Spotlight PA is looking to launch a Democracy Initiative with a bilingual democracy editor and newsroom developer to take on future projects. The coverage could include guidance on how to request a voting finance report, get involved in elections locally, background a candidate, and more.

The Democracy Initiative’s main goal is to connect its voter-centric journalism, resources, training, and events with communities across the state, including audiences that don’t typically engage with – or feel left out of – traditional media. Through these efforts, Spotlight PA hopes to prevent disinformation and equip its readers with the tools they need to be more informed about any upcoming election.

In addition to increasing its Spanish-language coverage, Spotlight PA is looking toward more grassroots efforts to reach key communities across the state. Baxter said they are looking to build more “community-based advocacy and organizational relationships” that can help distribute information.

Learn More

For support on deploying trust and transparency techniques, reach out to Trusting News. For help with The Citizens Agenda approach, reach out to Hearken.