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Stories, engagement and money: Practical tips from the JA election 2012 forum

Election 2012 Forum Screenshot

Day one of the forum focused around the editorial opportunities the 2012 election coverage presents. As we crested 100 comments, our hunch on the community’s desire for a shared conversation around the topic was confirmed. By day three, the conversation rested at about 233 comments. The forum will remain open as new ideas, questions or expansions on the ideas presented continue to evolve.

We went into last week’s forum suspecting the 2012 election offers fresh opportunities for local news sites to shine. Based on the ideas and on-the-ground experiences participants shared, we came out convinced.

Evelyn Larrubia, editorial director of the Investigative News Network, wrote this in the forum:

…newspapers across the country are not doing as thorough a job covering small-town elections as they once did…And yet, people want guidance when they step into the polling booth and face a choice for who they want running their town–or their kid’s school. I think there’s a real opportunity there for hyperlocal news outlets to inform the public.”

Dick O’Hare, founder and CEO of Local Yokel Media, kicked off his comments with this:

The 2012 elections represent a great advertising opportunity for hyperlocals. By definition, hyperlocals are creating content literally down to the precinct level, which is an attractive targeting opportunity...”

So how do you explore the opportunity? Here are just a few ideas from the high-octane conversation:

Set up a table at polling stations to show off your work, taking a page from the outreach strategy of Charolettesville Tomorrow. Or hold a “News and Brews” post-election debrief with reporters, campaign staff, and readers. Lokel Yokel Media suggests joining with other hyperlocals to attract political advertisers interested in a broad reach. Do what Jay Rosen and The Guardian are doing – on your own scale.

You might want to try what the Sacramento Press has done:

Last election cycle we made use of volunteer photographers, interns and our staff to cover everything we possibly could at the local level. By focusing on what we do best and not state or national issues we had the opportunity to collaborate with amateurs who wanted to help cover election results and parties…For us, the more community participation, the more of an ownership stake our community feels in our publication. It is a major selling point to advertisers and leads to increased referral business.” (Ben Ilfeld, co-founder, Sacramento Press)

Or the groundbreaking collaboration Chicago Public Media put together:

We produced an election project in early 2011 we called “Dear Chicago” which was [an] extremely successful collaboration that yielded content that many considered valuable IN ADDITION to the other coverage our newsroom was doing. NCME’s Stories of Impact project just published about it.” (Breeze Richardson, director of strategic partnerships, CPM)

Voices of San Diego ONA winner Building a Community around Education Coverage

Does the ONA have a category yet for a 2012 award honoring the hyperlocal “Building a Community around Election Coverage?” Photo by Lisa Skube at ONA 2010 Conference, Washington D.C.

One tool designed to add quick content to your site is Project Vote Smart’s VoteEasy, an API which uses candidates’ positions on issues to help “match voters to the candidates most like them.” A resource for several customizable election tools is the Sunlight Foundation’s Politiwidgets page. If you’re too slammed day-to-day to figure out where to start on special election coverage, check out this list of questions Teresa Wippel of My Edmonds News uses to vet collaborations, and this list that Anne Galloway of uses to consider new tools.

These are just a few nuggets. There are also conversations on ads and ethics, ideas on involving your readers in prioritizing election coverage, new research on state corruption that could help frame non-horserace coverage, and more.

We’ll distill the whole thread to pull out the many more ideas and resources suggested by forum participants, we’ll spice them up with links and examples, and present them for easy access for you to start 2012.

Thank you to all who contributed to the JA in 2011 – this forum caps a dynamic year of iteration and learning. We’re grateful for the community’s generosity in sharing experience and knowledge across members and networks. We believe we’re all a little richer thanks to the trials, errors, and successes of others.