Day 1: How U.S. Democracy Day, a national collaborative about democracy reporting, is building toward 2024
3:11PM Jun 20, 2023
So, next up is an initiative very near and dear to my heart because I helped
bring the idea to life last year and we have two power house journalists on the stage right now. And I mean that Beatrice Forman and Jessel, Nora, from the discus democracy Day, which you should all be a part of. If you leave here and you don't join democracy day, I'm going to send you a nasty grin. We got to have you on our team. So, Beatrice Jessel floor is all yours. All right.
Oh, we went backwards.
Fun. Okay. Hi. I'm like Stephanie said, my name is Beatrice Forman and I am the program coordinator of democracy day. And I'm also a breaking news reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Hi, I'm Jessica Nora. I am democracy cohort manager at solutions journalism network and also an organizer with us democracy day. So today we're going to be talking about how democracy day came together last year, literally from a Twitter thread and how we're building towards covering the 2024 presidential election and hopefully bringing you guys along with us. So to set the stage for today, we're gonna kind of set the stakes at the table democracy is slipping in the United States, even if you don't realize it. We're gonna be talking about democracy days lore and origin story. I'm going to be giving you guys some three low lift tips to implement into your newsrooms. missable government government accountability, or elections coverage and hopes that you will join democracy day where if you don't, you still get a helpful tip and trick and then how to participate in democracy day. So I'm gonna pass this over to my colleague now.
So quick survey, who here has heard of democracy day, raise your hand, we'd love to see it. Yes, we have a good captive audience here. Awesome.
So as you know, if you are here, you are most likely well aware of the threats that are facing our democracy, and the role that the media has played in helping create some of those threats. But what it can do to also respond to those threats is central to the discussion we are having. And right in the center of that is the role the media plays, whether it considers democracy a spectator sport, that is between two political parties, and requires people to go to the ballot box every couple of years and cast a ballot,
you know, has come under increasing scrutiny. And that role also limits our imaginations on what the public's role can be, and the press's role can be. And this idea of democracy day really came forward to support that explore that idea, and to learn from our past mistakes as journalists. So what is pro democracy reporting? pro democracy reporting is, is the anecdote to the the problems with democracy, the boat sizing of issues we've seen journalists do. It's rooted in the belief the media is empowered by the First Amendment, and that democratic democratic participation is sacred, and we can't shrug our shoulders or be neutral, when these principles come under attack. And we shouldn't aspire to be neutral or unbiased on that idea of the First Amendment or democracy. Democracy is not a game. And the media's role should be to hold those accountable that seek to infringe on our democratic rights, spread disinformation, and instead give people the information they need to be active participants in democracy and exercise democratic power, rights and responsibilities. We also know through our work at solutions journalism network, and that many of you have been involved in is that just talking about threats to democracy is not enough. And in fact, it can have the opposite effect of what that intends, if you just focus on the problem, we have to be talking about what people can do and what people are doing to respond to that. And there's often a, what I would call a false binary that says, and I've talked to journalists that, you know, might even agree with what I the argument I just made, but say, hey, we have to at the end of the day, our outlet has to get views. We have to get clicks, we have to get subscribers. And the idea is the only way to do that is through, you know, by exploiting the the negativity bias by focusing on what's wrong in the world because we know our brains are hardwired to, to, to or we're drawn to that. But there's increasing research and impacts from the advancing democracy Fellowship, which is a collaboration between Harken Sjn trusting news And we also work with pointer and conflict, to really help newsrooms become truly pro democracy. And we saw one community newsroom and loss a Latino, you know, had tremendous impacts leading up to the 2012. election last year 300% increase in pageviews. By by using these values by being pro democracy by engaging with their audience. And there's some more numbers up there. But the Texas Tribune, which is not a small community newsroom, they surpassed their their views on their election coverage from the 2020 election, and their 2022 voter guide based on these principles of engaging on focusing on solutions and being transparent with their audience. So a little bit about us, democracy is origin story. And some of the folks are in the room right now. So shout out to Rachel Glick house who responding to a column by Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post that was outlining the dangers that media faces and repeating its past mistakes in the upcoming elections last year, and I think it was January of last year. You know, understanding that change doesn't come from editorial pages, or people on Twitter had the idea of getting people together and actually starting a movement to support these values. And, you know, we're all here because we know that collective power is essential to tackling these problems. And so that's what democracy day sought out to do. Quickly that that Twitter thread you see up on the screen, you know, snowballed into A into like a small volunteer army. This year, we have funding. And we have we made some tremendous impacts over the last year and a half in and really sort of championing the idea of, of a pro democracy media movement. So nearly 400, newsrooms participated last year, on September 15, which is the International Day of democracy. And participation just involves publishing a story, or it could be resharing a story about that principle of having a pro democracy newsroom, not only talking about the threats to democracy in a clearer way, but also what can be done to fight them. newsroom started democracy beats. And you know, we have now we have a advisory board with some fantastic journalists. And we have a lot more in store for you this year.
So you heard about what democracy day did with like $1, a dream and a Twitter thread and your volunteers. So here's what we're doing now that we have funding, which is so exciting. So the first thing we did, like Jessalyn mentioned was, they appointed an advisory board, which includes gene son who gave keynote today. And they also hired me, which was super cool, because I wanted a side hustle. But beyond that, we kind of have three tent poles guiding our work in reimagining democracy day. The first is helping newsrooms build infrastructure to cover the 2024 election more meaningfully. So that includes staffing up hiring, sustaining, budgeting for a democracy be creating audience engagement, campaigns and tools to make your reporting more transparent and understandable to the people and the audiences you're serving. And also kind of tips and tricks to frame stories in a way that really empower and franchise voters. We're also diversifying our you know, core of newsrooms, so to speak, and tackling new mediums, if you're familiar with the project, or participated, you know, from last year that a lot of our newsrooms were hyperlocal, or local outlets with kind of a digital or traditional print focus. This year, we're trying to shift over to broadcast television and broadcast radio outlets. So if you work from one of those are involved in one we'd love to hear from you. And last thing is we're really, really focused on community building this year and what that means it's being in community with democracy days, organizers, but also being in community with the other newsrooms participating in because there's so much to learn from every single newsroom, they're all doing something amazing, with different with different constraints and goals. So we're hosting some webinars which we'll talk more about. There couldn't be a blog full of success stories from last year's participants about how they put stuff together on compressed timelines, all that good stuff and we're hoping to also work towards some in person events, and even the newsletter. So yeah, that's my job to figure out.
But in case you know, you're on the fence about democracy day want to join, don't know what to do. Here's some kind of three low lift tips you can implement literally tomorrow in your newsroom as your reporting election or government accountability stories, or assigning and editing them. So the first thing is to use a democracy frame, not a partisan frame. This definition comes from Shannon and McGregor at the Center for Information Tech. Knology in public life at UMC, and it establishes democracy as both a norm and a prefigurative idea in the US something we hold dear. But we're also always striving to uphold and perfect and make better. So what that looks like in terms of how you're doing reporting is it's not just fact checking election fraud claims, but it's going that extra step to explain how election fraud claims counteract the norms of democracy that you accept election results, you certify election results, all of that good stuff. It's kind of statism FRAC in practice, here's kind of taking a not so great, you're gonna throw it out in the garbage headline, and talking about some better ones. So that one up top, it paints election fraud claims as a combating them as an inherently Democratic Party issue. And you don't see the voter you don't see the larger system at hand. It has a complicated competitive framework. But the ones below really set the stakes. The first one literally talks about, like the threats to democracy explained. And while admittedly, that one, there's some analysis, that's tech leading opinion article, there's some ranking, there's some editorializing, the other to follow a very hard news framework. And the best way to do that, if you're trying to have a more holistic framing in your headline is to name the norm that's being violated. So in that first one, from CNN, the norm is that the election workers shouldn't get harassed at the polls. Now they are and the second one from Pro Publica, that's a double whammy, not only is the norm of election results, being certified not being upheld in some places, also the regular societal norm of when you don't do your job, you know, you're held accountable. And to some extent, it's also not happening. So it's really important to be upfront and kind of signal those things.
The next one is to focus on the stakes and not the odds. So unfortunately, focusing on the odds, it's kind of the de facto norm in the typical us newsroom, that's horse race coverage, right? It uses a competitive framework where elections or competitions and politicians and dominant parties, or teams, and what the kind of does is trivialize how politics impacts the everyday person, but also how it impacts systems writ large. It's super episodic, which means if you're a regular person who works a job has to raise a family has hobbies has, like has a busy or fulfilling life that can be able to see those patterns and how things are changing and how movements are forming. You're not going to be the most informed person at the polls, if we continue down this path. And also horse race coverage and focusing on the on the on the odds really atomizes newsrooms and optimizes campaigns and acts like they exist in vacuums, when in reality, we know the work of one campaign, one politician, one policy in one state, influences another. So you want to focus on the steaks, which treat you know, the live narrative of politics at where every politician, every campaign, every policy is contributing to kind of this meta narrative of what democracy is in America and how strong or weak it is. So you want to think about constantly telling a story, not just focusing on single bits of campaigns or politics in your neck of the woods is inherently thematic, it makes it easier for readers, viewers listeners to to understand how things are changing over time. And that also is really a good way to like in the moment say, hey, maybe a movement is forming, or hey, things are changing. Hindsight is obviously 2020. Maybe that's upon whatever. But we don't always want to have to, you know, look backwards, we're gonna be able to look forward and name things as they are in the moment. We're gonna see headlines on the left, again, not too great if you want to Dolman trash because they use an inherently competitive framework, right? It's about winning or losing in terms of redistricting, which makes redistricting and redlining like a map. But in reality, there are real voters at play who are being more or less and franchised. So you want headlines that really point to the stakes and the impacts. So when the other one went over that from New Yorker is about redistricting, it says threatening democracy. The other ones point to the clear consequences of you know, the election denier movement, so to speak, right? They're getting elected. They're changing how politics are done in seats like Arizona, right? You want to have headlines that are clear and explanatory and really set the table for your reader. And the final one, which you are all probably super good at recognizing is avoiding both sides ism, which is just another fun way of saying a false equivalency, right? It's giving two sides the same space, weight and merit in an article where maybe one doesn't deserve it. And I think in journalism, we're Often coach into doing this in the name of fairness. But I think as we're learning fairness is not always accurate. And fairness is not always just and I think when the stakes are this high, when we're seeing a lot of democratic norms and kind of just like ways society operates backsliding here, you gotta go bit beyond fairness. So one of the common false equivalencies is right, like climate change deniers versus science. And we know how to recognize that we're doing a better job as an industry of not giving, you know, Flat Earthers as big as a platform as like Neil deGrasse Tyson, right. But when we're looking at elections, that gets a little bit different, you kind of want to see more so to results over claims from election deniers, I think it's really dangerous to give people an unfettered platform to say that without being checked in the moment, like the Donald Trump, you know, CNN town hall, like even like the Nikki Haley, town hall, where they're saying all of these things that can like create a movement around anti democratic norms, and they're not being checked. And the other one also, right, in a bit more of a socio political situation is a book ban. And you want to give the curriculum and what's actually going on in school a bit more weight than people who, you know, we these reports, they're not reading the whole book, they're reading SparkNotes. They're not engaging in doing their due diligence. So you want to keep those in mind when you're reading articles to not also platform, the misconception or the false claim, because what that will do with a reader or listener, is it planted in their head, especially if it's towards the end of the article because of recency bias. And they'll remember that, but not the fact checking or the good reporting around it, which is why this balance and avoiding both sides ism is so crucial. So now, if you like what you heard, here's kind of a roadmap to participating in democracy day. So if you're like super jazzed about it, and we hope you are, we're trying our darndest to get you jazzed, you should fill out the form that is linked in this presentation. Just commit your newsroom to participating. And what is the commitment look like? Most of you know, but it's actually really simple. You are committing yourself of your freelancer or your newsroom to reporting one democracy related story out on or before the International Day of democracy, which is September 15. But this year, since we're focusing on infrastructure, you can also create and launch a piece of like newsroom infrastructure or a workflow related to elections reporting government reporting by September 15. So that could be posting a job listing for democracy beat posting a reporting FAQ explains how the ways in which your newsroom covers politics and what stories you do and don't take on. You can also do things like that truly a choose your own adventure. The other thing is, you can also attend some of our webinars which are open to everybody in journalism community, not just Demokratie participants, we have one coming up with the objective, which is about funding a democracy, how to fund a democracy reporting, position your newsroom and sustain it. And we have another with the lovely folks at trusting news about how to create a reporting FAQ. And finally, we are going to have some resources coming out to are available today and hard copies, one of which is a checklist for reporters full of prompting questions to ask sources from reporting stories on election integrity, municipal politics and school government, government accountability, all of that good stuff. The other is a checklist for editors to keep in mind certain frames as you're assigning and editing stories. So raise your hand if you would like a hard copy to look at right now and keep with you as a souvenir. Oh wow, keep your hands nice and high really passing them around and a shallow end. And if you're more of a digital person, or you lose things like like I do, we have a lovely QR code that you can scan and we'll take you to a link tree with all of the resources for democracy day, cleaning our website or Twitter, our contact information, registration forms for our collaborative but also for our webinars and resources, all that good stuff. And then you want to add
we'll have democracy day is going to be commissioning stories that newsrooms are free to share and compiling other stories that that you as participants in democracy today are free to republish and use on your own websites.
A lot of people's participation last year just counted as republishing, which I think is really, really important.
It's a true collaborative spirit.
Very true. All right, we have about 10 minutes left for questions. So keep your hands raised if you want handout, but feel free to come up to the mic and ask some questions.
Lou, Alex Howard, I was a participant in democracy day. So thank you so much for organizing this, it was cool to see that it was organized on Twitter. So maybe that contradicts the idea that things in Twitter don't matter. I would argue that social media, in fact, has been a corrective to a lot of the problems in mainstream and legacy media institutions where people who didn't have a voice before, could Then bear witness to what was happening in their communities and rapport with people. So just that's the question as a comment, because you're here in DC. The question for you, though, is actually the heart one I've really been struggling with. I was deputy director of a transparency organization and advocate Sunlight Foundation, we did a lot of collaborative journalism with people all around the world. And when the last administration came in, and took it, deliberately anti democratic approach, we were then portrayed as partisan. And I thought that your tip about keeping partisanship out of your headlines not your coverage was very powerful, because people I think, believe in democracy. But if you reporting upon the greatest threat to democracy in the United States today, that's far right authoritarianism. How do you give feedback, guidance, support and tips to newsrooms that want to be independent and nonpartisan, to be accurate, to be honest about that threat, without alienating the people they need to bring in to the coverage?
So that's a great question. And that is a really central question that you hear a lot in these discussions, right? Is being pro democracy mean being pro Democratic Party? And my answer is no, because you're holding both parties to the same standards. You're not You're not applying one standard differently to one party or the other. You're exempt. You know, you're evaluating the decisions, the actions, the impacts of the policies, regardless of who is in power, what administration, you know, you cannot be afraid to criticize either political party, either major political party, and you're really focusing on the impacts of those policies. Like, for example, in the in much of the media coverage of the debt limit, again, you saw that the, you know, it was portrayed as a battle between these two parties, when you know, what was missing often in those headlines is the impact of the millions of people whose lives will be directly affected, and were directly affected by that those those policy decisions.
So I have two things to say. I think a lot of times when thinking about pro democracy coverage, we fall into this trap of it has to be enterprise, it has to be investigatory, it has to be this blue chip thing. But a lot of it is just service journalism, that reminds folks there are different ways to participate in democracy. So that could be something as simple as holding event that tells regular everyday citizens that they can file FOIA requests. It can be like something I find really powerful was last year, resolved how the sound off in the park of Philadelphia called Mantua, Ws about how to ask questions to politicians, like a town hall, right. That's pretty democracy coverage. It's literally empowering people. It could also be explaining what a county commissioner does, or an Election Commissioner does. Like any how a how I got power polling, or voting, machine work. That's things like that doesn't have to be explicitly investigative, it can just be stuff that people need to know, to participate in democracy at its full complement. And I think the other way to kind of push back at like claims of being partisan, is explaining your reporting process. I think the reason why so many claims of the media being leftist or liberal, like really bubble up and hold some level of clout on the internet from the far right, is because a lot of our practices are so opaque, and we're not good at explaining what we do to people. So something I think is really awesome, right? New York Times is doing those enhanced Bilanz, where it can explain how a story comes together. So if you're doing that blue chip investigation on issues of accountability in your government, or something, maybe say like, we did this by looking through so many documents and talking to so many people and kind of showing you're showing how your process comes together. So people at least know that if they don't agree with the thesis of the article or they don't agree with the outcome of it. They know that you did your work, and we're confident enough in it to explain how it came together. Any other questions?
And did that answer your question? Great start. Thank you. If you have a question, please
come up to the mic.
Hi. Is there a way that you can spread the word to us I understand that this is important work of organizing newsrooms and recruiting newsrooms to participate. Is there a way to put this in front of members of the public to get them to ask their newsrooms and demand this Have newsrooms that serve their communities to say, this is what we want you to do. This is important to us, we want democracy coverage,
well, that's my job. So there can be. We're gonna obviously have social media outlets, social media assets and stuff available later in the summer. As things ramp up. More, I'm also working one of our advisory board members on an ambassador program for civil society and civic engagement. Org. So they will, you know, be going to get a media kit to kind of share democracy day encourage their local media ecosystem to participate, and also do their own events in tandem. So that stuff is in the works awesome.
Yeah. And you know, reach out to your local paper, or, you know, whatever publications you subscribe to and ask if they're not, if you don't see your outlet, as a sponsor of democracy day or someone that has signed up, ask them why, what about this? Do they disagree with and, and we have tons of resources to share with you
hang up, they're not answering you, you can ask me and I will send a you know, a lot more, you know, aggressively polite email asking them to join.
Hi, I'm Angie Holan. I'm editor in chief of PolitiFact. I wanted to ask you about what are your thoughts? And this is a complicated topic on pro democracy messaging on Twitter, because it seems like it's increasingly not a safe space for some individual journalists. And there is like basically increasing authoritarian activity on the platform. I was curious how you see that in the whole mix of activities around democracy day.
I think Jess will probably have something better to say. But I think there's a balance between it not being a safe space for journalists, and also being where people are, I think the average person who interacts with Twitter doesn't really understand how bad or how dangerous Elon Musk's is, it doesn't really notice or care, or think, to think about what the Trust and Safety Team leaving means it still was pretty much the same platform for them, maybe with a little bit more curse words and porn on it. So like, I think we have to keep in mind that two things can be true, it cannot be the safest space for journalists. But also where is where a general interest audience is, and that there still is a compelling reason to be there, if that makes sense.
Yeah, and I would, I would just add that that's a decision that you know, every newsroom journalist needs to make. And I can't use all the words, I want to to describe the state of Twitter right now, I hardly ever, I hardly ever use it anymore. I log on it once a day, I found it to be increasingly harmful for my own mental health, just like what my feed looks like. So I totally understand that decision. And that is, I mean, that's a discussion that journalists should have with their colleagues that newsrooms should be having right now.
It's really about seeing who your audience is. I think it would be easier for a more niche publication, it'd be like, okay, whatever, screw it, we ball, we move over to Macedon or post or someplace else, because that's where audiences but if you're like, I don't know, case in point, The Philadelphia Inquirer and you have to serve a whole city that has a major digital divide. I don't think you can afford to not be on the platform let big like capture such a large audience size, especially around an election. So maybe you couldn't, you know, not encourage, you know, certain journalists to post on their receipt. You don't you're not required to have an online presence in that way. But your news organization maintains its, you know, formerly verified account. Thank you.
Hi, Alice Dreger, founder and now reporter at East Lansing info in East Lansing, Michigan. So you know, Michigan crazy uncle state
Sorry. So I just wanted to share with you a really quick story and to encourage people doing local news to go after local election denying stories, because I think at the national level, people get their news, whether it's the left or the right, they're not getting the actual stories. We did a story on an election denier telling us that there was a voter who voted, her name was supposedly Emily Dickinson and she supposedly lived at a local bar. And so we looked into it and my reporting team was terrified of looking into this that we in fact, would find a case of voter fraud. And we would become national as a case proving voter fraud. There was a young woman named Emily Dickinson. And the reason she was registered at the bar is because she lived in a brand new apartment building, which was not yet given an address, essentially in the voting system. So when that happens, you're supposed to register at the nearest address, which happened to be the bar next door. So we were able to bring that story and I think it had a real impact locally on the people who are getting into election denialism because they were able to see a real story in our town where we checked a case, and we fearlessly check that case where we hid the fear and then we brought it forward. So
thank you. That is an awesome comment and right and also, please clap. And also like demystifies it Big of the election process and voting process in our Canada, right? Like, you know, new developments are being built every day. What happens if you do move into a place that's midway through construction and you want to vote, right? Like sometimes thinking about and reporting on those edge cases or like worst case scenarios, or you know what it is, is really, really important to.
And I would just end on a note that the Texas Tribune that was part of the advancing democracy fellowship last year, they did a story like that. But then they also reached out to the denier and explained to them what they were, what they thought they saw or what they thought they read and explain why was false so you can complete the circle. And that is really powerful journalism. Thank you for sharing.
Awesome, thank you both so much. Join democracy day, join democracy day. All right. Thanks, Beatrice. Thanks so much.