Many journalists and editors nationwide will meet this week for a retrospective on their 2023 local election coverage. The focus will vary depending on many factors, such as the size of the reporting team, the races on local ballots and, frankly, what else demands coverage that week. Resources are few, and time is tight.
And that is just one reason to talk about scope.
Newsrooms have finite resources and news leaders must decide what reporting and initiatives they focus on. You can’t do everything.
But you do want a plan. A North Star. Something that grounds your decision-making and helps you internally make choices — and helps your community expect consistency, too.
We compiled this list of questions to bring to your 2023 election coverage retrospective — download it here. It includes thinking about how your news organization stood out from others in your area; whether the scope of your coverage was clear to your community (and you); and whether you have a mission statement to guide this.
Mission statements help you when you need to make a quick decision about what to cover with the time you have. But mission statements also help you plan ahead. They require a “who” — who are you covering this for? And that “who” — which could vary based on civic engagement, geographic spread, audience focus, people’s experience voting and more — helps you figure out your engagement needs.
Here are some examples of different types of mission statements. Each would guide decision-making about resources, help the community know what to expect and inform how you engage them:
- We help inform voters by illuminating the forces influencing the 5 local races on November’s ballot.
- We explain the mechanics and challenges facing local offices all year for a more informed vote in November.
- We ask local candidates your questions about our town’s future, especially about the topics you said you most care about: schools and transportation.
In an unpredictable journalism landscape and a political one, too, you can’t plan for everything. Some news may break that veers from a well-intentioned mission. But having a plan (rather than the plan) will set you up for success.
We want to hear from you
API and AP want to gather insights on local news organizations’ reporting needs and challenges. The survey results will inform programming and resources from both organizations in 2024. If you are a journalist or media leader who wants to share your needs, please take a few minutes to complete the survey.
Insights from The Associated Press: Combating election conspiracies
As more local elections and the 2024 presidential election approach, election conspiracy theories continue to permeate swaths of the country, fanned by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. Grassroots groups are focusing on election denialism locally. Among them is Keep Our Republic, a pro-democracy group trying to build trust in elections by hosting forums in small towns throughout Wisconsin. Here are some tips for reporting in your community:
— Search for local organizations combating election denialism and reach out to election officials who are doing this work on the ground.
— Talk to people directly about why they distrust elections. Their responses are likely varied and deeply personal.
— Be aware of local groups spreading election conspiracies and of national election denialism figures who travel the country to do talks and presentations.
— Many local election officials have seen an increase in threats of violence and attempts to flood election offices with records requests. Consider asking officials in your community if they have experienced anything similar.
The Associated Press helps local news organizations contextualize the election coverage through localization guides — insights from AP reporters to help situate local stories in the national context. Read the AP’s full localization guide on election conspiracies here [password is Democracy2024].