When the coronavirus pandemic created an extraordinary voting situation in Massachusetts, WBUR responded with an innovative way to explain the state’s solution to voters, one that arrived in their inboxes and on their own schedule.
Automated newsletter courses are gaining popularity in newsrooms, and in 2020, WBUR harnessed this instruction method as a public service: Ahead of the November election, WBUR launched Mass. Election Prep, a limited-run email course designed to help current readers and listeners, as well as new audiences, become more informed voters in just seven days. The course distributed vital and comprehensive guidance on an array of brand-new voting options and ballot choices.
For the project, WBUR forged a partnership with Boston’s daily Spanish-language newspaper, El Planeta, to translate, market and distribute the newsletter course to Greater Boston’s Latinx communities. With voting rights, immigration, the economy and policing at the heart of the 2020 elections, WBUR and El Planeta made a joint effort to reach this diverse audience before they went to the polls.
The newsletter launched on September 14, 2020. Over a seven-day period of their choosing, subscribers received practical information on a variety of topics, including a primer on Massachusetts’s first attempt at universal mail-in voting, an analysis of the 2020 state-wide ballot questions, and issue explainers from newsroom beat reporters. Mass. Election Prep catered to the subscriber: upon signup, readers chose when they wanted to begin receiving the newsletter course, with availability right up to the week before Election Day. WBUR’s newsroom collaborated to produce a combination of online articles, videos, Alexa skills, and audio stories to explain intimidating topics like ranked-choice voting in engaging and accessible ways. The course was comprised of 7 core voter guide emails and 6 bonus emails. Subscribers also received a welcome email after signing up as well as 2 post-course emails encouraging them to engage with other WBUR products and/or support the station’s work with a donation.
Overall, Mass. Election Prep resulted in a new, highly engaged audience for WBUR; a deeper relationship with partner El Planeta; and an exemplary piece of public service journalism that other newsrooms tell WBUR they aim to replicate in the future. The project received a regional Murrow Award for excellence in innovation and won second place for collaborative effort from PMJA.