Is getting out the vote journalism’s job? Auspicious timing greets a new ProPublica initiative.

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Hoping to surf a rising wave of interest in voting and political engagement, ProPublica has launched a newsletter targeting first-time voters.

The goal of the “User’s Guide To Democracy”: help people become “more informed, more engaged, more confident” voters. The weekly newsletters, personalized by congressional district, begin in September, with information on voter registration, candidates, understanding political advertising, and reminders for election day and early voting days.

Thousands have signed up so far, says Celeste LeCompte, ProPublica’s vice president for business development. As of Thursday, the readers come from 426 of the 435 Congressional districts, says marketing director Cynthia Gordy Giwa.

Logo for 'Users Guide'
Logo for 'User's Guide'

Via The Noun Project

Timing is auspicious, with higher-than-expected vote turnouts in many special Congressional elections so far this year. Political interest has remained high in the traditional summer doldrums with the indictment of two members of Congress and convictions of two associates of the president.

The "User's Guide" is one of several ways that news outlets, many of which traditionally produced voters’ guides or co-sponsored candidate debates, are stoking interest in the midterm elections. TheSkimm, which focuses on millennial women, has launched a campaign to get 100,000 voters registered for November’s vote.

We asked Giwa a few questions about the ProPublica’s User’s Guide:

Q. How long has this newsletter been in planning?

The newsletter was actually conceived just a few weeks ago. As we looked ahead at the upcoming midterms, we saw an opportunity to tie together many threads from our reporting on voting access, election security, Congressional activity and political advertising. When we pulled all this information together, we realized it could help voters at different stages of the voting process, as well as after the election.

Q. What's the target audience?

We decided to build this with first-time voters in mind, first and foremost. But we think a lot of people can benefit from our plain-language approach to helping voters understand the barrage of information surrounding voting, candidates, Congress and campaigns. We’re trying to build something accessible for anyone who is excited about voting but doesn’t feel like an expert.

Q. What groups did you consult with or research with in building this effort?

We’re drawing on all of the work that goes into our ongoing projects like Represent, Election Databot, Electionland, the Facebook Political Ad Collector and other politics tools.

Q. How did you choose which areas to focus on? What would you rank the Top 3, in terms of importance?

We want to provide practical, user-friendly information that readers can put to work in their own community. So we’re helping them understand three main things:  

  1. Their vote (from basic preparation, to understanding how online political ads get targeted to them);

  2. Their members of Congress, and

  3. The race for the House seat in their district. Taken all together, this information will create a cohesive user experience leading up to the casting of their ballot and beyond.

Q. What's the main goal you hope to achieve in this effort?

Our goal is to present data on Congress, voting and campaigns in a way that makes it easy for voters to understand exactly what is going on. We want to demystify information that seems complicated or distant so that readers become more informed, more engaged and more confident about their vote. Just as importantly, we want them to have a better understanding of how to effectively advocate for themselves and their community, using their knowledge of how Congress works to stay engaged long after the election. 

Readers, what are your news outlets doing ahead of the election? Anything different this year? Let me know at

Quick hits

NO ACCOUNTABILITY: How did the Trump administration get into the business of ripping kids away from their parents? How was a “cabal of anti-immigration guys” able to start this without explaining the rationale? Here’s a quote from Jonathan Blitzer’s blistering New Yorker story: “The expectation was that the kids would go to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, that the parents would get deported, and that no one would care.” Even now, with 560 kids still held without their parents, groups under the direction of Trump aide Stephen Miller are redoubling plans. Said one administration official: “I definitely haven’t seen contrition.” (h/t Adriana Gallardo)

TRUST: Media critic Erik Wemple, writing off Poynter’s Media Trust Survey, asks why Americans have an uptick in trust. His conclusion: "Perhaps because the U.S. media — along with GOP primary opponents — portrayed Trump in the 2016 presidential election as an incompetent, soulless liar — and he has gone on to govern as an incompetent, soulless liar."

VISUALIZING FILTER BUBBLES: Looking at the extent of polarization on social media and understanding why filter bubbles are so hard to burst. By John Kelly and Camille François of MIT Technology Review. (h/t Ren LaForme)

IMMUNITY: Why did two senior officials from the National Enquirer's company get immunity in the Trump investigation? Documents in the Cohen case show the tabloid practically became a research arm of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. And, the AP reports, the scandal sheet kept documents of the Trump hush money payouts and killed stories in a safe.

THE REACTION FROM CINCINNATI: What to do if your Pulitzer-winning newspaper just happens to have the same name as a disgraced tabloid suddenly in the headlines? Here's what the Cincinnati Enquirer did:

TERMINATED: 39 YouTube accounts involved in an Iranian state media misinformation campaign, Google says. Via Sara Fischer of Axios.

GATEHOUSE BUYOUTS: Buyouts have been offered to non-union employees at a number of GateHouse Media outlets nationwide, including the Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register and its New England properties.

THE BARREN BORDER: His dad crossed into the United States — and vanished. A decade later, using social media, he saw his father’s ID, and what would turn out to be his remains. By Reveal’s Aura Bogado.


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Have a great Friday and weekend ahead. See you Monday morning. 


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