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Just how broken is our political information ecosystem, anyway?
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Nov. 12, 2020, 12:03 p.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK: citylimits.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Ben DeJarnette   |   November 12, 2020

The presidential election might have dominated the headlines in 2020, but it was another race that delivered City Limits its highest-performing post last month: New York City’s judicial elections.

City Limits is a 44-year-old nonprofit newsroom in New York City that specializes in “wonky, deep, longer-form journalism,” says Jarrett Murphy, the organization’s executive editor.

So a voter guide that explains the wonky world of judicial races and state bar approvals is very on-brand.

But the numbers are still eye-popping.

Last month, the City Limits judicial ballot guide racked up nearly 81,000 page views, which is six times more than the site’s other top-performing posts received.

“That guide drew an astounding level of traffic,” Murphy said. “I think it’s an information gap we should do even more to fill in the future.”

City Limits (a LION member) also partnered on a collaborative New York City voter guide this year, and it launched a weekly newsletter, CityVote 2020, to provide in-depth local coverage leading up to Election Day.

So what did Murphy and his team learn? Here are three takeaways:

1. Partnerships can be worth the effort, especially if you repeat them.

For the fourth straight year, City Limits partnered with Gotham Gazette and WNYC to build an interactive voter guide that lets local residents type in their address and see a breakdown of the races in their area.

The collaboration helped City Limits expand the reach of its in-depth reporting, while also allowing it to benefit from WNYC’s capacity, as a larger organization with its own tech team, to build a custom embeddable widget.

And because the same partners have worked together for four years, they didn’t need to spend much time building rapport or establishing ground rules.

“We’ve definitely had partnerships that become incredible time-sucks,” Murphy said. “But in this case, we’ve already built trust and familiarity,” and that helps the process go smoothly.

2. Election coverage should serve your readers and your organizational goals.

First and foremost, City Limits wanted its election coverage to provide a public service and address voter information needs.

But Murphy also knew exactly what he wanted City Limits to gain in the process:

  • Build on the partnership with Gotham Gazette and WNYC, which has long-term value beyond the election
  • Be able to embed a voter guide on the City Limits website
  • Get invited to appear on WNYC radio shows, which provides exposure to a larger audience

The collaborative voter guide helps City Limits accomplish all three of those goals, and that’s one reason why it has become such an enduring partnership.

3. Elections don’t have to be a seasonal beat, because democracy isn’t seasonal.

City Limits has published election-focused email newsletters before, but this is the first time they’ll keep it going between one election and the next.

Jarrett says the CityVote newsletter will now pivot to focus on New York City’s mayoral race in 2021 — and because the newsletter is continuing without interruption, they’ll be bringing their existing audience with them.

 

This article was republished with permission from LION Publishers on Medium. You can subscribe to the LION newsletter for more local news tips, tricks, and ideas to steal, or become a LION member to join their community of 300+ independent online news publishers.

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