Adapting our election coverage
I’ve been handling primaries and general elections for two years at the Daily Record/Sunday News, and each time I try to cover them better for the readers.
It’s a mix of running through the list of things that went well during the previous election — and what went wrong. Then I try to come up with new ways of doing things.
There’s a lot of back and forth, positive and negative feedback, and while it can be horribly frustrating at times, it’s what journalism is all about. Giving you the information you need to be informed when you head to the polls.
That said, it’s a lot of work. It takes a few months to get everything under control.
There’s determining which races are contested; sending out more than 100 letters to candidates in contested races (which of course there’s a video of). Then there’s assigning stories for reporters and correspondents to preview, planning out pages for primary night, and coordinating coverage for that night.
And there’s always the oldie, but goody: the Voters guide. Candidates from the contested races answered questions in their own words, which I re-purposed for print.
This year, instead of doing a giant list of links, I opted for a photo-based way to promote our primary coverage. Using New Hive, I used photos of municipal landmarks to get readers to the preview stories. And after it was all done that Tuesday night (or early Wednesday morning), I put together photos from the day to show our comprehensive coverage.
That said, I don’t normally hear a lot of feedback when it comes to primaries and elections. Nor do the stories about them normally make it into the most viewed on the website.
And the day of the election, we were talking about playing the tornadoes in Oklahoma up higher than primary coverage. In the end, we argued for democracy. That these races are the ones that affect residents more directly — their township and borough councils and boards, their school board members.
Still, only 16 percent of York County’s registered voters hit the polls on May 21. During last year’s primary, which included national and statewide races, 24.86 percent of the county’s voters came out. In the 2010 primary, which was municipal races like this year, everyone called the turnout “dismal.”
There could be a lot of factors playing into voter turnout and the success of our coverage. And it’s something I often try to wrap my brain around. I’d welcome any feedback that could help us better suit our coverage to the readers’ needs.
Are voters not coming out because they don’t have the information to vote? And if that’s the case, what can we do better or differently to help fix that? Or are they not hitting the polls because it’s a primary and people just don’t vote like they used to?