The Your Voice Ohio media collaborative, supported by the Jefferson Center, supports newsrooms and journalists interested in using civic engagement to listen to their communities and identify information needs.
Problems and Purpose
In 2016, the Jefferson Center conducted the Informed Citizen Akron/Your Vote Ohio project, which included a statewide poll and community events which surveyed thousands of people around the state of Ohio. They posed the question: “How can local news media shift their coverage to help voters better evaluate candidates and make more informed electoral decisions during the 2016 election?” Specifically, they wanted to know what coverage Ohioans weren’t getting from candidates and from national news outlets.
Regardless of political affiliation or ideology, one message rang loud and clear: Ohioans didn't see themselves represented in their local news. Along with Ohio media partners, the Jefferson Center saw an opportunity to respond proactively and embrace representative, community-based news coverage. They formed the Your Voice Ohio™ media collaborative as one solution to address this issue. Journalists in the collaborative are currently working together to cover Ohio’s addiction crisis and the changing economy.
Background History and Context
For the 50+ news organizations of the Your Voice Ohio media collaborative, the ongoing opioid and addiction crisis is a critical story. But their coverage about overdose totals was no longer resonating with audiences, leading to disengagement, apathy, or outright hostility towards opioid reporting.
The Ohio workforce is experiencing big shifts, including manufacturing automation to the gig economy, homelessness, loss of farmland, and more. To help Ohioans navigate these changes and define what the state needs from its next governor, lawmakers and local leadership, the journalist collective is asking readers to envision a more vibrant Ohio. What would it look like? And most importantly, how would Ohio get there?
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Your Voice Ohio was designed and led by the Jefferson Center in partnership with the Your Voice Ohio media collaborative. The event received funding from the Democracy Fund and the Knight Foundation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants were invited to join the open community conversations through local op-eds, social media, and outreach by community partners.
Methods and Tools Used
To provide a space for citizens to interact and communicate effectively with journalists, the Jefferson Center created a simple and welcoming dialogue model that could be used across the state. Table discussions involved 5-7 participants since larger groups make it harder for everyone to participate, and smaller groups lack diversity.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Participants sat at small tables in groups of 5–7. In these events, reporters participated in the conversations as community members, putting away their notebooks and laptops to share their own knowledge and experiences and listen to their peers.
Introduction: 10 minutes
Organizers opened the events by outlining the focus of the conversation, introducing the project team and reporters in the room, and outlining norms to help guide the conversation (e.g. listening to understand, rather than to respond and being respectful and open to new ideas).
Question & Discussion: 20 minutes
A facilitator moved the group into the first of three discussion questions, which drove the conversation:
- What does the opioid epidemic look like in our community?
- What do you see as causes of the epidemic in our community?
- What steps might we take to combat the epidemic?
To start a question cycle, participants took a moment to write their response in silence. This allowed everyone a moment to reflect and have something to share in the discussion. Without this opportunity for reflection, conversation tends to be driven by a smaller number of people who also tend not to be very representative. Each participant in the small group then shared their response with the table.
The discussion then opened up to explore common themes, points of difference, and other ideas. One participant (not a reporter) at each table volunteered to take notes to share with the large group, trying to settle on one or two points to share broadly.
Report back: 10 minutes
The facilitator did a report back with the large group, capturing one or two thoughts from each table, or as many tables as possible in about 10–15 minutes. This process helped participants hear ideas that weren’t discussed at their table while identifying common ideas and priorities across tables. This process also allowed journalists to sit back and actively listen to members of their community.
The same process was repeated for each of the three questions, though participants switch tables for each question to interact with a new group.
Wrap up: 20 minutes
To end, organizers discussed the next steps journalists would take to provide information in response to what they heard at the event and how participants could stay in touch. They also ask participants to write one question for reporters about the epidemic on the front of a notecard, and a statement they would like to share with the broader community on the back. The questions gave reporters something to work on immediately after the event, while the statements helped participants make their voices heard more broadly and by those who couldn’t attend the conversation.
Finally, organizers administered an informal survey of three questions:
- Did you learn something new during the discussion?
- Did you interact with someone you wouldn’t typically meet in your day-to-day life?
- Would you attend an event like this again?
For each question, more than 95% of participants responded ‘Yes’.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Reports and editors are walking away with a sense that their current reporting may not be serving the whole of their community. Jordyn Grzelewski, a reporter at the Youngstown Vindicator, puts it this way: "Sometimes there is a disconnect between the stories people want and need from us and the stories we are telling."
Reporting itself has shifted based on what journalists have heard at community events. For instance, participants often ask, “Why do you use images of needles and drugs in your stories? Don’t you know those are triggers for drug use?” Many journalists, weren’t thinking about their images as triggers or that they’re either turning away readers/viewers or making someone’s recovery that much more difficult. It may seem simple, but it’s a revelation that wouldn’t happen if reporters weren’t in conversation with their community.
The Your Voice Ohio collaborative is continuing to cover stories and connect with readers from community events, and the Jefferson Center has updated their resources for journalists and the public on the Your Voice Ohio website, and shared in a weekly newsletter.