WBEZ: Deploying The Citizens Agenda for electorate-focused coverage

Flipping the model for candidate coverage to be voter-first

The Challenge

To expand the relevance, reach and impact of WBEZ’s election coverage, particularly to ethnic and racial communities historically underserved by the station. WBEZ wanted to focus on a reporting agenda that is for these communities rather than about them. Ultimately, their aim is to create coverage and tools that help people understand their world, navigate it better and become their own best advocates.

The Strategy

Deploy the Citizens Agenda approach and focus coverage on the public’s answer to this question: “What do you want your local elected officials to be talking about this election season?” They gathered and sorted responses to publish a Citizens’ Agenda of top issues, and created content to help them better understand those issues and become more engaged citizens.


The Outcomes

WBEZ collected more than 2,200 questions in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese which formed the basis of five key focus areas for reporting. They coordinated with beat editors to assign stories based on top issues to ensure subject-matter expertise from across the newsroom. From this reporting they created the following products: seven feature audio stories, a field guide to local politics, and virtual candidates’ forums for three neighborhoods most affected by COVID with an average of 5,000 views per event. The Citizens Agenda ended up inspiring the process and topics for follow-up COVID coverage, and generated an entirely new position at WBEZ: The Engagement Editor.

On the business side, they were able to tell the story of this listening-first work in their annual Gala event, generate hundreds of new email addresses from participants that were not already in their CRM, and make compelling pitches for their pledge drive around this coverage.

The Lessons

Articulate the project scope, goals, and metrics early to get buy-in from management. In person outreach is key! Have a system for sorting audience responses. Follow up with the audience throughout the process. Think beyond just a traditional story. Community partners are key for successful distribution. Build upon the partnerships you form for future coverage. Translate invitations to participate and elections reporting / tools into multiple languages.

The Future

WBEZ is continuing to focus on using a listening-first process, and to generate reporting products, tools and events that center the public most affected by policies and events.

Learn More

Hearken manages Election SOS, co-created The Citizens Agenda guide, is a partner of Democracy SOS and collaborator on Democracy Day. Reach out if you’d like to learn more about their engagement strategies, training programs and technology.