KPBS will boost coverage of elections and democracy with $3 million gift

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© Undine Pröhl

KPBS' studios in San Diego

KPBS in San Diego will launch a three-year initiative focused on democracy after receiving a $3 million gift to increase coverage of elections, politics and local government. 

The gift, provided by two local donors, will support multiplatform coverage of democratic processes, a position for a “democracy anchor” who will handle social media accounts, a “Voter Hub” web page with bilingual information about candidates and elections, and partnerships with local and national newsrooms and other organizations. 

KPBS GM Deanna Mackey said the initiative, which the station began developing last summer, drew inspiration from her previous work as president of the Public Television Major Market Group, which fosters the sharing of democracy-focused content among stations.

“When I came to KPBS a year and a half ago, I decided that one of the things I wanted to launch was a democracy initiative,” said Mackey. “We knew it was going to be an initiative that included content and engagement as well as a focus on building new audiences through social media.”

The $3 million gift came after KPBS approached longtime supporters Irwin and Joan Jacobs with the idea for the initiative. Local digital news sites inewsource and Voice of San Diego will also receive a portion of the funds to create content that will be featured on KPBS’ TV, radio and digital platforms. 

The station will also partner with StoryCorps’ One Small Step, a project that brings together strangers with opposing political views for a non-political conversation. The project will train KPBS reporters to produce content that facilitates conversations between community members.

Mackey said that KPBS plans to feature partnership-produced content across all platforms and host community events facilitating discussions that bridge various political perspectives.

“Our focus is not on agreement,” Mackey said. “I think our problem in our country right now and sometimes in media is we focus too much on ‘We each have to tell our side, and then we have to agree.’ No, we each can tell our side. We can listen respectfully. We can agree to disagree on aspects, but we can walk away in understanding rather than walking away in hatred.”

Understanding complex ballots

In addition to the partnership with One Small Step, Mackey said that KPBS will hire a community producer to manage the StoryCorps partnership. Additional roles on the initiative team will include an editor overseeing politics and election content, a position focused on the voter hub, a governance reporter who will contribute to the voter hub and oversee engagement activities, and the democracy anchor, who will share content on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. KPBS will begin recruiting for the new positions in early July.

The station’s collaboration with inewsource will include the nonprofit news site’s San Diego Documenters program, which identifies and covers access issues in public meetings and polls. San Diego 101, a podcast and video series by Voice of San Diego that explains the impact of local policies and the workings of local institutions, will expand its reporting with the KPBS democracy project. 

KPBS will feature content produced by Voice of San Diego on Midday Edition, a daily hourlong radio program, and Evening Edition, its nightly hourlong TV show. The programs will feature Voice of San Diego journalists sharing their reporting on local governance, elections and voting. 

Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis said that the partnership will likely feature explanatory reporting to help San Diegans understand complex public affairs processes. 

“There’s obviously a tremendous number of state and local ballot measures in California,” said Lewis. “And this year especially, there will be many, many tax increases and tax policy reforms and other major changes coming on the ballot that are very complex. People turn to us to help them understand not just what would happen if they passed, but … what’s at stake with every decision.”

An additional aim of these partnerships, Mackey said, is to expand engagement with younger audiences and people of color.

“This is how we approach storytelling and news through a lens of inclusion,” said Mackey. “If we give you a couple-minute Instagram Reel about how you could participate in the democratic process in San Diego … in my opinion, it is part of the democratic process and learning how you can support your community.”

In addition to the $3 million gift for the three-year initiative, KPBS has been reaching out to other donors about an endowment for governance reporting to increase partnership opportunities. Mackey said that KPBS has identified local ethnic press organizations for future partnerships on translating and sharing content. 

Mackey said KPBS hopes to continue the initiative “long after 2026.”

The idea “is not an idea that stops at the election,” she said. “It’s not an idea that stops with the 250th anniversary of our country.”

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