Today is primary day in Philadelphia. Voters will head to the polls to pick candidates for mayor, city council, city commissioner and a number of other positions.
If would-be voters check the Philly.com site before heading to the polls, they’ll be well-informed — and not just from the reporters working for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
That’s because over the past several months, Philly.com has become ground zero for a project called The Next Mayor, a collaborative journalism project with seven other organizations in Philadelphia, including public radio station WHYY, African-American talk radio station WURD, Temple University’s School of Media and Communication, and two non-profit, non-partisan organizations that encourage Philadelphians to become more civically engaged.
Philly.com houses the project, which contains articles, polls and videos from all eight organizations.
“It’s definitely one of those issues where we’re all focused on it, so it makes sense to try to amplify it on one site,” explains Diana Lind, the director of digital audience development at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. “It’s a central place for readers to visit, and we’re directing readers directly to the content on other sites.”
Lind, who started in her role in December, is charged with creating editorial projects that will better engage readers on Philly.com, along with developing events that will reach potential readers offline.
For The Next Mayor, she worked with the other partner organizations on several projects, including content sharing and running a mayoral debate, in which the questions were informed by each partner newsroom’s unique audiences.
[“Before the debate,] we solicited questions for the debate over social media through our own handles, those of our staffers, and those of our partners,” she says. “[Tech site] Technical.ly Philly had questions about the tech scene, WURD Radio had questions about the African-American community. And each of the different media organizations involved solicited questions in different ways.”
The public also had the chance to have their voices heard through a series of short films called “Street Level,” which asked registered community organizations throughout Philadelphia to raise awareness about a problem facing their specific community and then pose a question to the mayoral candidates about how they’d solve it.
In South Philly, for instance, local resident Jennifer Harrison stood in the shadow of the neighborhood’s oil refinery and asked the mayoral candidates how they would handle all of the health concerns residents have from their proximity to the refinery. Another video asks candidates to talk about how they would resolve ongoing trash issues.
I really like this approach. It’s smart to have people from around the city ask questions and elevate those questions so they’re addressed in a debate or during a live chat, like the one that was held yesterday on Philly.com to answer reader questions before the polls opened today.
The chat featured one journalist— Tom Ferrick Jr., a former Inquirer columnist who now writes for the Next Mayor project— as well as leaders from Young Involved Philadelphia and the Committee of Seventy, two civic non-profits that regularly help Philadelphia’s voters navigate the polls.
And both Young Involved Philadelphia, which builds connections between young Philadelphians and ensures their voices are represented in civic issues, and the Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia government watchdog organization, see their partnership with Philly.com as a way to expand their own reach within the city.
“The Next Mayor project is one of several civic partnerships and coalitions we’re a part of that allows us to reach more citizens,” says David Thornburgh, the executive director of the Committee of Seventy. “The news organizations have reach and distribution that we don’t have, so ideally we can both benefit—and the voters themselves can benefit—from this kind of partnership.”
YIP’s Mike Thomas agrees.
“The benefits here cut both ways,” he says. “Philly.com benefits from engaging one of the largest organizations in Philadelphia that is focused on serving the population of young adults; YIP benefits from the recognition of our growing status amongst the community. And especially with older stakeholders in the city, it’s awesome to have the added credibility of being involved with Next Mayor.”
Thomas is also thinking about ways to continue the relationship with Philly.com beyond the primary election. He’s currently working with Davis Shaver, a software engineer for Fusion who lives in Philadelphia, on a project for the upcoming general election that would help teach Philadelphians about important policy issues through prompts on beer coasters. The coasters, distributed in local Philly bars, would then instruct people to a mobile app to learn more about the issue.
“We want to have a mobile experience seconds away where you can take a quiz or something similar to learn more about the issue,” says Shaver. “And then we give you a few ways to follow up – maybe a voter guide on school issues.”
That’s smart – and it’s really smart for Philly.com to partner with organizations that think like this, because it helps build all of their audiences simultaneously while better informing voters in the process.
“The idea is to elevate the other partners while elevating ourselves as well,” says Lind. “And I’m glad we’re able to reach different audiences in the process.”