Creating opportunities for the public to share their information needs and shape coverage
The 2022 midterms were a critical test for democracy and it was imperative to empower voters across the country with the information they needed to participate in the elections. Many states had made it more difficult for people to vote – changing polling locations, making mail-in or absentee voting more complicated, cutting back on polling hours. America Amplified worked with 30 stations across 25 states to answer questions and create FAQs about how, when, and where to vote.
America Amplified created a Hearken embed for all of our stations with the prompt, “What questions do you have about participating in the upcoming midterms?”. They encouraged and supported stations to share the embed online, on social and in printed materials at live events or tabling.
WUSF in Tampa was just one station that participated. They also were a part of the Democracy SOS fellowship so their election coverage was focused on ‘empowering your participation in democracy this election season.’ They were very intentional about integrating the America Amplified engagement work with the citizen’s agenda approach to coverage.
Thus their mission statement, on their Democracy 2022 page, said “The goal of our democracy team at WUSF News is to provide you with accurate, honest journalism to empower and inform you about voting and elections…We won’t be chasing politicians, but instead we’ll tell stories based on the questions you want answered.”
The question prompt embed was featured in a prominent place on their Democracy 2022 homepage, and was linked to on every political story they posted in the lead up to the midterms. WUSF promoted the prompt heavily on-air, on social media platforms, and in pledge drive scripts that emphasized the stations’ commitment to engagement and to centering the voter in their election coverage.
America Amplified answered over 600 questions from audiences all across the country; WUSF alone received 79 questions related to the upcoming election.
Centering the voter in election coverage is an effective way of connecting with audiences in the midst of political chaos. Providing citizens with the information they need to participate in democracy is central to public media’s mission. The question prompt embed was an effective means of reaching current audiences; to get beyond those audiences to the broader community that doesn’t listen to public radio or read stories on our websites, we need more lead time, more partnerships within the community, more opportunities to deeply listen and understand what those communities need to know.
America Amplified is planning to launch a similar but expanded initiative in 2023 and 2024 to help public media in 50 states meet the information needs of their audiences and communities at large in the lead up to the 2024 election.