Studio 20 Will Collaborate With The Guardian on How to Improve Election Coverage

On Dec. 8, Studio 20 and The Guardian US jointly announced that they will collaborate in the development of a “citizens agenda” approach to election coverage during the 2012 campaign for president.

Jay Rosen and Amanda Michel, The Guardian’s Open Editor, explained it this way in a co-authored column that ran on The Guardian site: 

The alternative to “who’s going to win in the game of getting elected?” is, we think, a “citizens agenda” approach to campaign coverage. It starts with a question: what do voters want the candidates to be discussing as they compete with each other in 2012? If we can get enough people to answer to that question, we’ll have an alternative to election coverage as usual…

Social media and the two-way nature of the Internet make it possible to ask that question of many more people than you could reach in a poll, although polling is important for reliability.

The answers that come in form the basis for the citizens agenda. It won’t be a single issue, of course, but a basket of top concerns broadly shared by respondents – six to ten, or perhaps as many as a dozen priorities that originate not with journalists or campaign managers, but with voters. Some may be different from the issues the operatives see as advantageous to their candidate, or maybe not. The point is that we won’t know until we ask.

Once synthesised, the citizens agenda can be used as an alternative starting point for the Guardian’s campaign journalism. When the candidates speak, their promises and agendas are mapped against the citizens agenda. Reporters assigned to cover the campaign can dig deep on the items that make up the citizen’s agenda. In questioning the candidates, the Guardian will ask about things that flow from that agenda. Explainers should try to clarify and demystify the problems named in the citizens agenda.

A key course in the spring 2012 curriculum, Studio Two, will be devoted to the project. That course, taught by Jay Rosen, will have a technologist and newsroom developer as part of the team, Matt Terenzio.

“Studio 20 students will work alongside the Guardian’s journalists in brainstorming, designing and managing features on through early May 2012,” Michel and Rosen said. “Together, we will arrive at the picture of how people want journalists to cover the election through a number of traditional and non-traditional methods, including sampling science, internet polling, web forms, social media, old fashioned reporting, discussions and debates, experimental features, plus staff and user-generated content.”

The announcement was covered by Nieman Lab, where Megan Garber wrote:

Studio 20′s role in the project, Rosen told me, will be in part to act as an interactive team that will help with the inflow and engagement of users; students in the program will also conduct research and analysis and think through — perhaps even invent — features and tools that can foster that engagement in new ways, testing them out on The Guardian’s U.S. site. (Michel calls the students a kind of “independent brain trust.”

For more background and context on the project, see the post at Jay Rosen’s blog, PressThink.