February 9, 2016

One of my favorite hobbies is to Google various phrases and see what the giant search engine returns before I ever have to click a link.

Search for New Hampshire, for instance, and Google returns a paragraph containing information about specific cities and points of interest within the state.

Google Bernie Sanders, and the search engine shares some images, his thoughts on an issue, as well as links to his social profiles.

And when I Google “New Hampshire primary,” the search engine returns a ballot and tells me results will be available soon.

Google’s not stupid — the more time people spend on their site, the less they click through to another site. They’re saving users a click and regularly connecting them with material from a variety of sites.

This raises an interesting question for news organizations: What’s the best way to cover the lead-up to a presidential race when some people will be satiated by a search query?

I really like the approach that New Hampshire Public Radio has taken with its coverage leading up to today’s primary. The station recently launched a new multi-platform reporting initiative covering politics and public policy in New Hampshire. Called State of Democracy, the project is staffed by several NHPR reporters and editors who have put together an interactive voter’s guide, a package on the role money is playing in the 2016 primary and a series on the people who help make the primary work.

They’ve also released an iPhone app that helps residents navigate campaign appearances and stories and launched an elections database, which provides comprehensive results from every New Hampshire election since 1970.

These are the types of stories that require readers to invest more than a cursory glance at a search engine. I reached out to Dan Barrick, the senior editor for politics and public policy at the station to ask if he would share insights into the station’s focus on apps, databases and stories about individuals in New Hampshire — and where the station plans to pivot after eyes move onto other primary states.

The number of journalists in New Hampshire has shrunken considerably in the past decade and the state currently has no DC-based correspondent from a local newspaper. The State of Democracy initiative at New Hampshire Public Radio is staffed by six reporters and producers from across the station. How are you targeting people across the state who care about politics and may not see as much coverage in their local paper?

First, we try to do the highest quality, most interesting journalism we can, both on air and digitally. We have a strong audience base to begin with, as one of the few statewide media outlets in the state and with one of the larger newsrooms in NH media. We try to cover stories across the state as well. NHPR is based in Concord, the center of the state’s political scene, but we try to get to all corners of New Hampshire to understand the impacts that decisions made in the capital are having — and also to engage listeners who may feel very distant from the State House. We also use social media aggressively to promote our work.

Part of the initiative was releasing an iPhone app. What can people find on the app and is the information being released in other ways on the Web? (In case people don’t have an iPhone….)

Right now, the app is very NH Primary focused. We have a daily news feed, with all our coverage of the primary; a daily news memo, exclusive to the app, that summarizes some new development, includes a piece of analysis, or some other quick summary of the news of the day; summary pages for each candidate, including news stories, fundraising info, and campaign stops; and an events calendar and map, showing upcoming candidate visits. Much of the content (events map, candidate summaries) are on our website, but the app gathers them in one place in an easy to navigate format. Shortly after the presidential primary, we’ll tweak the app to focus on state elections and the NH legislature.

All eyes will be on New Hampshire during the primary. Are other public radio stations or the networks promoting the app or State of Democracy? Are you partnering with other stations across the country?

I don’t think so, though several other stations are carrying our primary night live coverage.

How much of your coverage is Web-based vs. radio based? How do you decide what goes on each platform?

We have a vibrant website that includes a lot of Web-only content. That includes items like this set of data maps showing the results of every past NH primary and interactive explainers of candidate policy positions. We also have a politics/policy blog, and lots of other content too. In some cases, we pair digital and on-air pieces together, to play to each medium’s (and our reporters’) strengths.

As part of State of Democracy, the station partnered with a Boston-based software firm to create a comprehensive database of NH election results stretching back to 1970. How has your team tapped into the database and what do you plan to do with it beyond the election?

This site gives you an overview of some of the pieces we’ve done so far. Our goal has been to turn the numbers into visually compelling graphics that also tell a story about New Hampshire’s politics: both how things have changed in the past, and how they’re shaping the present day political landscape. We’ve also used the information in the database to provide a bit of data to inform reporting for on-air pieces. And it will be a key component of our live, on-air coverage as results come in on primary night.

What does State of Democracy look like post-NH primary?

We’ll pretty quickly turn our attention in two directions: One is the 2016 state elections, which includes contested races for governor and US Senate. We’ll try to cover both races beyond day-to-day horse race reporting to include coverage of the issue shaping the race — and those issues that aren’t necessarily being discussed by candidates. We’ve also got a list of stories of a less “political” nature we want to get to that the primary has pushed to the back burner. Our main goal is dig into stories that reflect the impact of political decisions once they leave the statehouse, to not let the legislature’s daily doings set our agenda.

What has the reception been to all of these platforms in NH? How are you getting the word out statewide that these resources exist?

The reception has been very good. Political scientists and other journalists have already started poking around our elections database. When we show the database to people, for instance, we get lots of oohs and ahs. Politics in NH is a really local affair, and people like to look up their towns and see how it compares to broader state trends. Our coverage is getting high marks from people around the state. And we’re continuing to call attention to it through social media, an early press release and continued on air promotions.

Aside from NHPR, how are you getting election news this primary season?

During the primary, I read The New York Times and POLITICO every day, to see how the national media heavyweights are viewing NH. FiveThirtyEight is often inspiring in their use of data to tell stories or debunk conventional wisdom.

I was surprised that NPR didn’t include Iowa Public Radio’s coverage in their election app last week. Are there any plans to work with the network to further the reach of the digital work the station is doing?

We’ve worked pretty closely with NPR throughout the primary season. Editors there have commissioned a number of pieces from our reporters, both daily newscast and features, and we are among a handful of station participating in NPR’s Political Reporting Partnership this year: That means one of our reporters is part of a small group working closely with an NPR political editor to do stories that reflect the nuances of the state’s politics for a national audience. We’ve also talked with NPR about using our elections database on primary night to enhance their on-air analysis.

What else is the station up to that people should know about?

We’re developing a new podcast, Outside/In, that’s focused on environmental issues. We’re also expanding our regional coverage, with plans to add reporters to parts of the state that have traditionally been under-covered.

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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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