November 29, 2016

Here are 28 ideas for covering the president-elect starting in January. Feel free to use any of these, or adopt them as a starting point for thinking of ideas in your newsroom.

  1. Pick an issue, any issue. Collect everything the president-elect says about that issue in one place. It’s hard to keep track of all of the nuances related to a single issue — say, climate change or the Supreme Court. It’s easier to follow along when they’re all in the same place. The Connecticut Mirror does this well with their Citizen’s Toolbox. 

  2. Maybe pull back on Twitter for a bit. Only 16 percent of Americans use Twitter. If you’re doing all of your analysis on Twitter, you’re likely reaching other journalists — but not the majority of the public. Share your findings in other ways.

  3. Make a map. There has been much reporting in the past few weeks about how president-elect Trump’s business interests may cause potential conflicts of interest. Map them. Embed them on every story mentioning foreign relations.

  4. Start to make interactives on topics that you can embed on every story related to that topic. Update them on a regular basis so that people can follow along (and don’t have to have the same memory as someone working in your newsroom.) People dip in and out of the news. Design stories and pages with this in mind.

  5. Install a ticker. The New York Times installed a prediction bar on all of its stories about the election that indicated how likely it was that Clinton or Trump would win the election. It shouldn’t be too hard to install a similar bar indicating other useful information. Some ideas: How many days has it been since the Supreme Court had nine members? What bills are being debated in Congress this day, week or month?

  6. Simplify everything. Here’s a tool that shows you how to do matrix multiplication, which is a pretty hard concept to grasp. Here’s why I like this: It’s simple, it’s visual, it walks you through a difficult concept step by step and it gets rid of all of the gobbledygook of mathematics. The same can be done for just about anything.

  7. Pick 10 counties across the country. Partner with news organizations in them, or college reporters. Split up coverage. Swap ideas. Think Panama Papers. Pick a topic. Work together to report it. How does it affect each of those counties? How can you elevate voices from those places? Who is reporting there? Who should your community be following? Why is this important for people to know about, even if they don’t live there? How can we think about commonalities besides topic-based journalism and demographic-based journalism and geographic-based journalism?

  8. Write more than one headline. First, write one that reports verbatim what happened. Then one that interprets, particularly if what happens verbatim isn’t actually true. Then maybe one that sees what happens from a different point of view. Then one that uses a quote. Then one that uses numbers. Publish all of them alongside a story.

  9. Show how news organizations in other countries are covering the same story. Partner with them. Swap ideas.

  10. Ask a room of fifth-graders what questions they have every week about what’s going on in Washington. Or a room of computer scientists. Or a room of people living in a random place. Maybe change it every week. Print their questions. Answer them.

  11. Print outside your publication. Use public space. Try publishing on a laundry room flier board. Or on a lightpost. Or as a PDF that your audience prints out and hangs in a local area. Or as a series of questions that someone can use to start a conversation. What happens when you project the news on a local building, as The Office of Creative Research once did? Or when you put your news project inside an art gallery? What happens when news becomes part of public space and public infrastructure?

  12. Think about different languages. As I suggested in an earlier column, we can think about how bilingual households might need translated news content. Use that to your advantage. Should certain stories be translated into different languages? Can you partner with your audience to help with these translations?

  13. Think about your paywall. Are there certain stories or issues where the paywall should come down or not be there at all? What are the tradeoffs that you can consider?

  14. Think about new ways to measure success. If you’re writing headlines differently, you might not get the viral traffic pageviews. Here are 50 different ways to think about analytics (and 55 questions to think about before thinking about analytics). Start there. Actually, that would be a nice exercise for newsrooms to complete together over the next month. Some sample questions: Does our coverage connect to our journalistic mission? How much does our coverage connect to a real problem our readers have? Did our coverage change someone’s attitude? Did our coverage change someone’s life?

  15. Look to civic hackers for inspiration. Civic hackers have the technical chops to sift through just about any dataset, and they benefit from journalists who can help determine what story there is to tell — and the right way to tell that story.

  16. Report on how other reporters are reporting a story. For a story on the Iowa Caucuses, I once looked at how Iowa reporters were covering them. Roundups are easy to do and help fill in gaps. This is also an idea where digital humanities techniques can come into play. Can you analyze the sentiment of stories? Can you analyze the word usage? Are some publications using phrases different than other publications? How many stories does each publication do on a certain topic? What kinds of stories are there? How might that help the reader?

  17. Figure out how to loop in coders. Every December, coders around the world participate in 24 Pull Requests, an annual event that helps open source projects. Publish your data sets. Request help with your documentation. If you don’t have staff for data visualizations in your newsroom, pair with a local university or a coding bootcamp.

  18. Come back to a story a week later. People dip in and out of news. What’s changed in the past week? Why is this story still important? A month later?

  19. Check in six months later. Has anything changed?

  20. Don’t focus on the federal government at the expense of local. What do I need to know at the local, state and federal level this week? If you’re not covering it, do a round up.

  21. Ask people who don’t work in news how they get their news. Ask them what they dislike about the news. Ask them about their earliest news memory. Ask them what they’re most interested in learning more about over the next four years. Ask them what they dislike about election coverage. Ask them who does it well.

  22. Show the evidence. Look at No. 23 in this homepage design brainstorming session: a homepage for people who want to see research or related research along with news for a lay audience. It allows you to show your evidence. While you’re checking out No. 23, also look at No. 24, No. 30, and No. 39, which might solve the pesky problem of headlines not being detailed enough for social media.

  23. Explain everything for the next four years through the eyes of one person. When KPCC wanted to explain a local election, they found someone not planning to vote and decided to make him care — reporting on the election issues through the process. It was fun and original, not boring, and made people think about issues differently than a wonky political story. How do you do that for the Supreme Court nominations? For climate change? For immigration?

  24. Look outside of news for inspiration. My favorite local newsletter is run by a real estate agent in Seattle. Last year, I wrote that the most exciting company in media sells a card game. How do they get people to care? They package things differently. (They also license their card game under a Creative Commons license, which makes it easier for distribution when the goal is maximum impact.)

  25. Think about what you may have missed if the election went another way. Would we be covering fake news as much? Maybe, maybe not. Are there other stories that we’re missing, simply on account of our filtered experiences? Likely. How to find them? Go live somewhere else for a while. Better yet, hire someone who already lives there.

  26. There is no such thing as an audience anymore. We’re all amplifiers and sharers and content creators and analysts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to report on everything someone shares. Is it newsworthy every time someone tweets? Maybe, maybe not. Does shock value equal newsworthy? Probably not. Come up with an internal scale for what to report, and how, and when. Remember the evidence.

  27. Report on what’s not normal. It’s okay to tell your audience if something is not normal, or a lie, or why something isn’t exactly true. That’s good reporting.

  28. Report with empathy. Is there a way to measure the empathy of a story? What might that look like?

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Mel leads audience growth and development for the Wikimedia Foundation and frequently works with journalism organizations on projects related to audience development, engagement, and analytics.…
Melody Kramer

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