As the midterm elections loom, there’s a lot of talk about threats to democracy, and what to do about it. One recent poll even showed this as the issue of most concern to voters. News organizations have created teams to cover democracy as a beat. Possible stories abound, from the January 6 investigation, to gerrymandering and voter suppression, to struggles over the administration of the election machinery itself.

I want to talk about something more prosaic, but in many local communities perhaps likely to have greater impact: ways newsrooms can directly aid voters in making the critical choices they face. I hope this may be of practical use, even over the next seven weeks.

A look at eight major cities

Earlier this year, I did some research for my consulting clients at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism in Philadelphia on what might be learned from such efforts in the closely contested mayoral elections in other large cities over the last three years, including Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Nashville, New York, and Pittsburgh, as well as selected efforts elsewhere. This column draws heavily on that research. In the practical spirit, it contains quite a few links.

It turns out that sophisticated, interactive voter guides — digital turns on the work long performed by organizations like the League of Women Voters — are among the most effective techniques adopted by newer news organizations, as well as more established players seeking to engage voters and potential voters. Among the most successful of these appear to have been those published recently by The City in New York, the Texas Tribune and a consortium of Chicago newsrooms.

At the local level, the best work has almost certainly been done by The City, with its Meet Your Mayor. This was a weekly set of issue guides, structured as a quiz that enabled voters to choose the candidate whose views most closely matched their own. Elsewhere, here is a great guide to campaign coverage overall from the Texas Tribune, as well as two recent examples of other offerings from them: A guide to the state’s March 2022 primary ballots, and a look-up tool for checking on your representatives after redistricting.

Read the full article about informing voters by Richard Tofel at Nieman Lab.