Coming out of the 2016 presidential election year, covering politics in the media has often times gone through chaos and disorder. It’s what prompted McClatchy to launch the Influencer series in four of its major markets: California, Florida, Missouri and the Carolinas.
Kristin Roberts, regional editor of the McClatchy’s East region, is in charge of leading the series in all four markets. As regional editor, she discovered that having reporters just cover polls during the elections was a bad decision and it didn’t help readers.
“We didn’t satisfy the consumer’s desire to understand policies affecting their communities and where candidates stood on those policies,” she said. “Readers want us to force conversation about policy, not personality.”
Now, she considers the Influencer series the start of changing the way newsrooms should approach covering politics.
And it all starts with the reader.
In each market, participating newspapers send surveys to their subscribers asking what issues are most important to them during the election year and what questions they might have. The topics that are found to be most important to readers will serve as the framework for the series until Election Day.
Then, the team collects reader questions along with policy questions from reporters and sends them to the Influencers, who range from state leaders, senior members of universities and former elected officials. For example, the California Influencers include Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, current University of California president and former secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Rosalind Hudnell, vice president of HR at Intel Corp and chair and president of Intel Foundation.
Questions are then answered and discussed during live public events. Topics covered range from housing affordability and education to healthcare and transportation. Later, the newspapers share the conversations through their various print and digital platforms.
Roberts has seen two to three times more participation than expected due to McClatchy’s partnership with Your Voice, where readers can comment at the end of articles related to certain policies. These comments are incorporated in the conversation, and also run in print.
“Without Your Voice, the potential would not be what it is, it would be a one-sided conversation—a newsroom having a conversation with influential people,” she said.
When policy conversations are translated to the state level, it’s usually discussed as problems that need to be fixed, but the Influencer series elevates the discussion and provides real solutions provided by leaders in the community.
“We really are sincere in our desire to produce journalism that matters to the readers,” Roberts said.