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How the Dublin Inquirer put people at the center of its election coverage

Volunteers helped the four-person startup newsroom take on a citizens agenda approach and build a comprehensive voter guide.

Since launching in 2015, the Dublin Inquirer in Ireland has been guided by a “policy not politics” approach to covering local news. When the four-person newsroom learned of the “citizens agenda” approach from Membership Puzzle Project director Jay Rosen via a series of tweets, they decided their upcoming Dublin city council election was an opportunity to test out the approach.

The Membership Puzzle Project’s Ariel Zirulnick shared a case study on the Dublin Inquirer’s approach as part of a call, along with Hearken, to reimagine what campaign coverage should look like.

Volunteers, Zirulnick writes, are what made it possible for the four-person team and small group of paid freelancers to take the citizens agenda approach to creating a comprehensive and user-friendly voter guide ahead of the spring 2019 election.

She wrote:

The team receives an assist from a bevy of volunteers who love what the Dublin Inquirer is about and will do a lot to help it succeed….Dublin Inquirer sees its audience members’ passion as an asset to expand scope and impact, not a liability to manage.

Zirulnick’s case study lays out just how the Dublin Inquirer team launched the project.

  1. Announced project and asked their readers: “Should we do this?” as well as “If we did, would you help us do it?” (Of the 11 who signed up, all but two turned down the newsroom’s offered stipend.)
  2. Distributed survey via social, newsletter, and in-person volunteers that asked, “What do you want the candidates in the upcoming local elections to be discussing as they compete for votes?”
  3. Tallied the responses and drafted a set of 10 questions for each candidate.

The work didn’t end there. There were about 130 candidates in the local election, about a dozen for each electoral district. Volunteers were once again invited to participate. Each one was in charge of getting contact information for six candidates, sending them the questions, and following up. By Election Day, 105 of the candidates had shared their responses.

Zirulnick writes:

Readers noticed the effort — and some appreciated it enough to become paying supporters.

Also in the case study: examples of approaches from other newsrooms like the Los Angeles Times, EdNC, The Tyee and Broke in Philly.