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Journalists from community newspapers around Missouri and surrounding states are invited to attend an upcoming workshop on local election coverage at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo.

The free event, “Down-home Democracy: Empowering Citizens With Outstanding Coverage of Local Elections,” will take place Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, 2014, at RJI. The workshop will focus on strategies that journalists at newspapers with circulations of 50,000 or less can better inform voters and help readers become active participants in local politics.

Many reporters work hard producing election coverage only to see low turnout at the polls come election time. Scott Swafford, organizer of the workshop and a 2013-14 Reynolds Fellow, said that’s a problem.

Scott Swafford“I think that low voter turnout seems to suggest some sort of disconnection between people’s day to day lives and local politics,” Swafford, who also works as a city editor at the Columbia Missourian newspaper and a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, said. “And I think that’s a shame because local politics I believe have far more of an impact on people’s lives than politics at the state or federal levels.”

Swafford sees in-depth, issues-based election coverage in community newspapers as a possible means of bridging the gap between citizens and local government. The workshop will offer reporters and editors the knowledge and skills necessary to provide that coverage.

The workshop will feature a number of speakers with extensive community election experience, including keynote speaker Jim Pumarlo, author of “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Campaign Coverage,” and Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. Topics covered will include how to incorporate multimedia and interactive graphics into election reporting, how to mine campaign finance data and how to handle the thorny issue of endorsing candidates without alienating readers in small towns.

There also will be sessions on conducting deep candidate background checks, in-depth reporting on local ballot issues and managing election-related letters to the editor. A full schedule, a list of speakers and workshop registration information is available here. Registration is limited, so those who are interested should sign up right away.

The focus throughout the workshop will be on practical skills and strategies.

“We’re really trying to keep in mind that (community newspapers) do have limited resources and that can be a real challenge for them,” Swafford said. “We don’t want them coming and getting a lot of pie-in-the-sky advice that they can’t really pull off.”

Swafford said the goal for workshop participants is simple.

“What we’re hoping is that they’ll see increases in readership, and in an ideal world an increased turnout at the polls as a result of what we’re advising them to do.”

For more information about the workshop, visit the event page or contact Scott Swafford at swaffords@missouri.edu.

Landon Woodroof is a graduate student and research assistant at the Missouri School of Journalism.



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