At its core, “Beyond the Ballot” (BTB) is a community engagement project.
With BTB, WPR is turning our traditional reporting process on its head. Instead of reporters and editors deciding what’s important to cover this election season, we’re asking hundreds of people what they think. Our staff has fanned out across Wisconsin, asking people the same six questions and having real conversations about politics in 2018. The interviews guide our coverage and provide sound for features, interviews and promos. The centerpiece of the project is a website that features high quality photography and stories. One of the goals is to make our political coverage less candidate-focused. Spending valuable airtime and staff resources on the horse race does not serve our audience. Instead, BTB keeps the focus firmly on the issues. We are also collecting detailed demographic data on virtually everyone we interview. This data helps us make good on our ongoing effort to diversify our sourcing.
In thinking about how WPR was going to cover the 2018 election season, we challenged ourselves to come up with a project that was a total departure from our usual political coverage. Out of that process came “Beyond the Ballot.”
We are reaching out to people in-person at concerts, festivals, farmers markets, conferences and community events. WPR also set up an email address and hotline so potential interviewees can reach out to us. The content is presented on a website that was custom built for the project. The interviews have also found a home on both of our daily talk shows as well as the local broadcasts of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. We are also using the project as a test bed for non-traditional storytelling. Compelling soundbites are pulled from these conversations and used in 30 and 90 second spots that air in place of regular promos and newscasts. They serve a dual purpose. The spots enhance the visibility of the project and help our audience contextualize the election season on a near daily basis. The project began in the spring and will likely conclude in the weeks following the election in November. WPR had several goals in mind when we launched BTB. Perhaps most importantly, we wanted our journalism to be truly people-driven. Our hope was to make our election coverage more meaningful by largely avoiding the horse race.