November 6, 2018

On Tuesday morning, commuters throughout Pennsylvania’s Greater Lehigh Valley will see something new on their drive — election news and updates. On billboards.

“As public media, our core mission is educating and making our content available wherever people can be,” said Yoni Greenbaum, chief content officer at PBS39/WLVT, which covers eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey, according to its site.

They might be sacrificing ratings or revenue, he said, but if a lot more people are informed, “That’s a win.”

The idea for billboard election news updates started about a week ago. The station is working with Adams Outdoor Advertising’s electronic billboards, using existing paid inventory, Greenbaum said, and a donation of billboards from the company. In all, more than 50 billboards will broadcast the news across 10 counties.

The station, which is also airing live election night coverage on several other platforms, is treating the billboards like an independent platform, he said. They get eight to 12 words. People seeing them will be passing by at 65 miles per hour. They need bite-sized information, and it needs to be punchy.

Related: How to follow live midterms coverage if you don't have cable

“It’s an experiment,” Greenbaum said. “It’s one I have a feeling we’ll stick with going forward. I love the idea of the content being truly free.”

The billboards will share updates and refer people to the station’s coverage, while also providing color from election night and comments and questions from its audience. Greenbaum said he hopes that people will recognize PBS39 as a member of the community that’s one of a number of news sources they can turn to.

“Also I hope for people who may not be paying as much attention as they could, that by seeing this, they decide to go home and watch, read, click in, turn on, and find themselves more engaged with election night and politics as a whole.”

The best case scenario, he said, is that they’ll hear from people on social media who saw the billboards and have comments or questions.

“Being able to drive that type of interactivity would be a huge win for us.”

More midterms coverage:

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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