About this series

Every editor who’s touched politics and election coverage knows the feeling when news breaks: We could have seen this coming.

Yet planning ahead is something newsrooms don’t always do well. The news gets in the way. There’s personnel turnover, and that one editor who had coverage ideas (in their head) left. A less-experienced staff isn’t sure how to go about planning — some of them have never done it before. Meetings are scheduled, but they are often too open-ended and unstructured, so the discussions end up being unproductive.

This theme stood out in a recent API/Associated Press survey of editors and journalists who cover elections, so we decided to help with this aspect of the job. Over the next few months, API will assemble a series of conversation guides to help with some of the more difficult conversations newsrooms face in election coverage. We’re not going to tell you how to run your coverage — every newsroom, every community and every political landscape is different. But we can help you talk about it. So when you face a specific development you’re not saying, “I wish we’d talked about this in advance.”

These guides are here to help you save time while getting some core thinking shared among your staff, on the record.

How to use these discussion guides

For each discussion, you will need to decide in advance who’s going to be involved and what resources you should bring or circulate to participants.

Some Critical Conversations will be meetings, some might be brown-bags; some conversations might not require an in-person gathering at all. The prompts in this series are designed to help you zero in on critical issues that newsrooms face, often on deadline — which is not the time to have these discussions. And while you may depart from the plans you make as a result of these conversations, at least you won’t be going into tricky stories saying “We didn’t talk about how we were going to handle this.”

For each conversation, we’ve given you a short description of the issue and why it’s important, then some prompts for discussion and actions to consider.

Are there election-related critical conversations for which you’d like conversation prompts? Email us at news@pressinstitute.org.

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