Scott Swafford, Introduction, overview and research

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Reynolds Fellow Scott Swafford kicked off the workshop and shared some of his research at RJI's "Down-home Democracy: Empowering Citizens With Outstanding Coverage of Local Elections" on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014.

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Scott Swafford, Introduction, overview and research

  1. 1. INTRODUCTION, OVERVIEW AND SOME RELEVANT RESEARCH
  2. 2. Goals for Our Workshop We want to convince you that: • Newspapers play an integral role in promoting local democracy, and that municipal election reporting is some of the most important work we do. • Investing extra resources in election reporting is worthwhile, and that you can do more with the resources you have. • Better election coverage will boost your newspaper’s standing in the community. • Better election coverage is potentially profitable.
  3. 3. Goals for Our Workshop We want to share tools and strategies for: • Seizing upon elections as a key opportunity to foster community debate on important issues. • Engaging citizens in helping set the agenda for election campaigns. • Covering candidates and campaigns in much more depth. • Using endorsements, data, documentary photography, multimedia and other strategies to take your election coverage to new levels.
  4. 4. Election coverage is important to residents, and most see their community newspaper as the primary source of information about local elections.
  5. 5. RJI Research on Election Reporting • The RJI Insight and Survey Center surveyed residents of three Missouri towns in November and December 2013 to gauge attitudes toward and use of newspaper election coverage. • The Sikeston Standard Democrat, the Branson Tri-Lakes News and the St. Joseph News-Press agreed to participate. • A total of 1,235 surveys were completed online and by telephone, with a minimum of 400 per newspaper. • We will return to those respondents after the April 2014 election to determine whether changes in election reporting produce any changes in residents’ election behavior and attitudes toward newspaper coverage.
  6. 6. 6 Demographics of the Sample • Average age = 54.4. Age range was 18 to 94. • 49% of the respondents were female. • On average, respondents had lived at their present address for 15 years. • 84% of respondents reported owning their homes. • 22% had either a high school diploma or GED, 20% had some university study, 27% had a college degree, and 13% were either working on or had completed postgraduate study.
  7. 7. 7 Voting Behavior of the Sample • 95% of respondents said they were registered to vote. • 87% reported they usually vote in April elections. • Overall, 72% reported that they voted in the April 2013 municipal election. • Among online respondents, 89% self-reported voting in the election in 2013, compared to 66% of the telephone respondents. • 77% agreed to be interviewed again in April 2014.
  8. 8. 8 Other Characteristics of the Sample • 7% of respondents indicated they had been a candidate for local political office, such as city council member. • 30% reported that they had contributed to a political campaign within the past three years.
  9. 9. 9 Other Characteristics of the Sample Of those who reported contributing to a political campaign:  48% said they contributed to a candidate for state representative.  46% said they contributed to a presidential candidate.  37% said they had contributed to a candidate for U.S. representative.  15% said they had contributed to a local school board candidate.  15% said they had contributed to a local city council candidate.
  10. 10. Major Findings from the Survey Residents indicated strongly that: • Municipal elections — for seats on local councils and boards and for bond issues and tax increases — are important to them. • They pay attention to newspaper coverage of local elections, particularly in print.
  11. 11. Major Findings from the Survey • Overall, each of the three newspapers scored slightly below 4 on a 5-point scale (with 4 being “good” and 5 being “excellent”) for quality of election coverage. The combined rating was 3.94. • We also got some good data on what types of election reporting residents find, or would find, most useful.
  12. 12. 12 Readership of and attention to the local newspapers
  13. 13. 7 of 10 read the local newspaper • 71% of residents read a printed newspaper at least once a week. • Age, length of residence & income were positively related to readership. • Average age of readers was 56 years; they have lived in the area for an average of 17 years. • Average age of nonreaders was 50; they have lived in the area for an average of 12 years. 30% 26% 25% How many days a week do you read or look into a printed local newspaper? 29% 20% 15% 15% 11% 8% 10% 6% 5% 3% 2% 0% 7 days 6 5 4 3 2 1 day None
  14. 14. Use of newspaper websites 35% 30% 25% When was the last time you accessed the website of the local newspaper? 23% 22% 34% 21% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% Past 24 hours Past 7 days 8 - 30 days ago More than 30 days ago • 58% of residents accessed the websites of local newspapers. • A combined 45% of residents accessed the websites within the past 7 days.
  15. 15. 3 of 10 said they read newspaper coverage of local elections online 38% 40% 35% 30% 25% 20% 17% 16% 14% 15% 15% 10% 5% 0% A lot 4 3 2 No attention
  16. 16. 16 Knowledge about local government
  17. 17. 17 6 of 10 answered “city council” 60% 60% In your town, are decisions in city government made by a city council, a board of aldermen or a board of trustees? 50% 40% 30% 19% 15% 20% 10% 3% 3% 0% City council Board of aldermen Board of trustees All the above DK/Not sure
  18. 18. 18 53% didn’t know term of office for a council member/alderman 60% In your town, what is the term of office for a member of the city council or board of aldermen/trustees? 50% 53% 40% 30% 25% 14% 20% 6% 10% 2% 0% 2 yrs 3 yrs 4 yrs Other DK/Not sure
  19. 19. 19 54% didn’t know the term of office for the board of education 54% 60% In your town, what is the term of office for a member of the board of education? 50% 40% 30% 20% 14% 13% 14% 5% 10% 0% 2 yrs 3 yrs 4 yrs 6 yrs DK/Not sure
  20. 20. 20 Municipal Elections Seen as Important Description of statements Average score Elections on local bond issues or tax proposals are important to me. 4.34 Voting in municipal elections is important to me personally. 4.17 Elections for school board seats are important to me. 3.78 I do my best to stay abreast of information about municipal elections. 3.70 Elections for city council or town board seats are important to me. 3.68 Elections for other local boards are important to me. 3.61 The outcome of municipal elections has more impact on me than the outcome of state and federal elections. 3.04 Note: Responses to the questions were coded on a 5-point scale ranging from (1) “strongly disagree” to (5) “strongly agree.”
  21. 21. Importance of Voting in Local Elections 45% 45% 38% 40% 35% Voting in municipal elections is important to me personally. [n = 1,228] 30% 25% 20% 15% 9% 6% 10% 2% 5% 0% Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree
  22. 22. Importance of Local Election Outcomes The outcome of municipal elections has more impact on me than the outcome of state and federal elections. [n = 1,211] 34% 35% 27% 26% 30% 25% 20% 15% 8% 5% 10% 5% 0% Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree
  23. 23. Staying Informed about Local Elections 47% 50% I do my best to stay abreast of information about municipal elections. [n = 1,231] 45% 40% 35% 30% 25% 22% 20% 13% 15% 15% 10% 3% 5% 0% Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree
  24. 24. Importance of Town Council or Board Elections 47% 50% 45% Elections for city council or town board seats are important to me. [n = 1,217] 40% 35% 30% 25% 21% 20% 14% 14% 15% 10% 4% 5% 0% Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree
  25. 25. Importance of School Board Elections 40% Elections for school board seat are important to me. [n = 1,227] 40% 35% 29% 30% 25% 20% 15% 13% 15% 10% 3% 5% 0% Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree
  26. 26. Importance of Bond Issues/Tax Increases 50% 50% 41% 45% Elections on local bond issues or tax proposals are important to me. [n = 1,235] 40% 35% 30% 25% 20% 15% 5% 10% 3% 5% 1% 0% Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree
  27. 27. 27 Newspaper Ranked as the Most Valuable Source of Election Information Description of statements Average score Local newspaper reports are a valuable source of information about municipal elections. 3.94 Conversations with other community members are a valuable source of information about municipal elections. 3.81 Public political forums or debates are a valuable source of information about municipal elections. 3.69 Reports on local newspaper websites or other digital platforms are valuable sources of information about municipal elections. 3.58 Note: Responses to the questions were coded on a 5-point scale ranging from (1) “strongly disagree” to (5) “strongly agree.”
  28. 28. 28 Direct Mailings from Candidates & Social Media Were Not Well Perceived Description of statements Average score Political advertisements in the [newspaper] are a valuable source of information about municipal elections. 3.08 Candidates' websites are a valuable source of information about municipal elections. 3.01 Direct mailings from candidates and/or campaign committees are valuable sources of information about municipal elections. 2.77 Social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, are valuable sources of information about municipal elections. 2.72 Note: Responses to the questions were coded on a 5-point scale ranging from (1) “strongly disagree” to (5) “strongly agree.”
  29. 29. Thesis Research on Missouri Newspapers’ Election Reporting • This study examined coverage of the April 2010 municipal elections at 28 Missouri newspapers with circulations of less than 50,000. • In all, 292 articles were found. “Literacy frames” were dominant, representing 63% of all the articles. A little more than one in four stories addressed “substantive issues.” • Some newspapers ran as few as two stories throughout the 2010 spring campaign season. The average story count was 10.4. The highest was 28.
  30. 30. Horse race 8.6% Framing in Local Election Stories Literacy 63% Strategy 0.7% Substantive issues 27.7%
  31. 31. Good Journalism is Good for Business “Fully 60% of the American public have heard little or nothing about the news industry’s financial struggles. And 31% of people say they have deserted a particular news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they have grown accustomed to. And those most likely to have walked away are better educated, wealthier and older than those who did not — in other words, people who tend to be the most prone to consume and pay for news.” — 2013 State of the Media Report, Project for Excellence in Journalism
  32. 32. Good Journalism is Good for Business “The job of news organizations is to come to terms with the fact that, as they search for economic stability, their financial future may well hinge on their ability to provide high-quality reporting.” — 2013 State of the Media Report, Project for Excellence in Journalism
  33. 33. Good Journalism is Good for Business Philip Meyer’s Influence Model “The model’s appeal is that it provides a business rationale for social responsibility. The way to achieve societal influence is to obtain public trust by becoming a reliable and high-quality information provider, which frequently involves investments of resources in news production and editorial output. The resulting higher quality earns more public trust in the newspaper and, not only larger readership and circulation, but influence with which advertisers will want their names associated.” — “The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age”
  34. 34. Good Journalism is Good for Business “Although quality — like beauty — may be in the eye of the beholder, there seems to be a strong link between newspaper quality and circulation. Papers that cut quality as a short-term cost-saving device may end up paying in future circulation.” — Lacy and Fico: “The Link Between Newspaper Content Quality and Circulation”
  35. 35. Our Premises for Down-home Democracy • Community newspapers can do a much better job of covering local elections, through print and digital platforms, and their audiences will notice and appreciate it if they do. • Better election coverage can help your newspaper establish itself as a key contributor to and facilitator of decision-making on important issues in your community. • Building social capital will pay dividends through increased subscriptions, readership and advertising.
  36. 36. HELPING VOTERS MAKE DECISIONS WITH THOROUGH ELECTION COVERAGE
  37. 37. “The Elements of Journalism” Kovach and Rosenstiel • Journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens. • Its essence is a discipline of verification. • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise. • It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  38. 38. Enough about Theory… What does all this look like when we apply it — or don’t apply it — to election coverage?
  39. 39. Let’s Look at Some Examples • Candidate Q&As • Audio interviews • Video interviews • Overview pieces • Candidate forums • Testing candidate assertions/fact checking • Exploring issues in the campaign
  40. 40. Let’s Look at Some Examples 911 Tax Coverage at Branson Tri-Lakes News • Officials: 1 call center offers better 911 service • 911 quarter-cent sales tax: What will be taxed? • No citizen members for county emergency board • Future without 911 pondered • Group opposes 911 sales tax • Consolidated 911 systems trending
  41. 41. Let’s Look at Some Examples Columbia Missourian Coverage of 911 Tax Proposal • Columbia, Boone County seek 911 tax • Crowding, understaffing, challenge 911 • Groups, residents oppose 911 tax • 911 officials ready with facility plans
  42. 42. Personality Profiles

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