Akron group wants to change election coverage

By Dylan Reynolds

With $174,990 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute is collaborating with the Jefferson Center and the Akron Beacon Journal to help newsrooms better understand and respond to the preferences of Ohio voters in a new project called Informed Citizen Akron (ICAkron).

Through in-depth voter polls and non-partisan civic engagement events, the goal of the project is to discover what type of election coverage voters really want, and then work with media partners to discover that coverage. ICAkron will help give voters a stronger voice by communicating their concerns to candidates and encouraging more accountability, as well as exploring priorities and information needs.

The Minnesota-based Jefferson Center is a non-partisan civic engagement and public policy non-profit that creates opportunities for citizens to generate informed solutions through education, democratic deliberation, community organization, and collective action.

Research from the Bliss Institute finds that Ohio citizens hold exceptionally negative attitudes toward presidential politics. To address this problem, The Bliss Institute will conduct statewide polls on the election and media coverage while the Jefferson Center will run “engagement events” to get voters talking about the matter. Then, Ohio media outlets will analyze and provide the information to the public.  

Andrew Rockway, program director at the Jefferson Center, explained how the project will involve UA students.

“Generally we found that young people, including students, feel like their voices and perspectives aren’t included in much media coverage of elections and that candidates don’t talk about issues that young people care about,” he said. “In our deliberative engagement events, we’ll get diverse groups of Akron area residents, young people especially, to discuss how we can have a different public conversation about important issues, about the candidates, and about the election that includes more perspectives and more voices.”

Once Informed Citizen Akron is in full swing, it hopes to see fewer stories about heated campaign rhetoric and more about substantive issues. If the project’s hopes are realized, this will increase voter knowledge and engagement, which should cause more people to show up on election day.
“Our media partners across Ohio want to use those discussions as the basis for developing coverage that reflects what all Ohioans care about and holds candidates accountable to address the issues that everyone cares about, not just what their base or likely voters or swing voters prioritize,” he said.