BenitoLink set out to learn what local folks wanted the 2020 candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes in November 2020. No one had ever asked them before.
So in July, we gathered survey data from 104 residents who hammered out 224 key words in the first of four surveys in English and Spanish. [We are in San Benito County, California, a small county of 62,000 residents, just south of Silicon Valley.]
Residents ranted about housing, roads, jobs, and businesses. Candidates asked, “How will the city deal with the new homes and no businesses?” They clamored, “Fix our roads!” Like so many in the hyperlocal “newsphere,” we felt the pressing urge to lay down a communication line directly between residents and candidates, some representing us in Sacramento and D.C. BenitoLink played the role of messenger — transparent and nonpartisan; we’re a nonprofit for the common good with a mission to engage all communities, such as ranchers and farmers, electronic equipment and agricultural technology and research, commuters, small business, urban, suburban and “far out” rural. We are 60% Latino.
First, we went to school, sending key staff and board members to Hearken webinars. Within days, we organized an Elections Committee to execute The Citizens Agenda that focuses on “generating more responsive, inclusive and useful news coverage for voters” (bit.ly/thecitizensagenda).
Rather than fret over resources we didn’t have, we added to the team an Asian web development intern, a Latino graphic design intern and volunteers (a paraplegic resident, a Spanish language expert and a recent university graduate in political science).
Next we embraced partners to help us spread the word: The (only) local Spanish-language radio station KMPG Radio La Bonita, farmworker union leadership, LULAC, a subsidized housing group to reach Spanish-speaking seniors and the 150 nonprofits in our Nonprofit Club.
The second through fourth surveys are under development, each one to be based on the results of the former. BenitoLink articles have kept our readers—especially survey respondents—current on results. (We reach 42,000 to 52,000 unique readers every month in a county of 62,000.) We are “it” for election coverage, but this time round we’ve connected directly with residents in a more inclusive sweep.