DemLabs blog

Photo by Kristel Hayes on Unsplash
Photo by Kristel Hayes on Unsplash

Sailors know sailing with the wind and tide gets them further with less effort. Aligning your story with the news cycle can similarly improve your results.

Don't mess with the census
American democracy depends on a fair census. The census is used to determine how political power and federal resources should be allocated to different parts of the country depending on how many people live there. It also determines where schools, hospitals, police stations and roads will be built. The impact is huge. The next census is in 2020.

Wilbur Ross, the Trump Administration's Commerce Secretary approved the adding of a question about citizenship to the census.  This question was eliminated in 1950. Alarm bells went off. It would intimidate minorities from participating and distort the census count. The census is meant to be a count of ‘everyone’ in the America – not just citizens.

An informed public
It's hard to mobilize people to act when the danger isn't clear and present.

The proposed census citizenship question is such a threat by discouraging participation. A census that undercounts ethnic communities such as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans will hurt them for generations. They will get fewer resources and less political representation.

Fortunately groups such as Ethnic Media Services (EMS) are fighting for the integrity of the 2020 Census. It has over 8,000 media partners nationwide including newspapers, radio stations and TV programs. Their combined daily audience reach exceeds 55 million ethnic adults. EMS improves the capacity of ethnic news outlets to inform and engage diverse audiences on broader public issues to build a more inclusive participatory democracy. A fair 2020 Census is high on their list.

EMS launched a pilot program in January 2019 for its Bay Area partners with a combined audience reach of 500,000. This training program consisted of three digital story telling webinars delivered by DemLabs for twenty three media reporters.  Twelve of the participating reporters have already integrated these digital techniques into their 2020 Census reporting.

Collecting community voices
Comments by other community members on an issue are persuasive. These comments are in the same language and include cultural references missing in the mainstream media.

EMS decided to train journalists to collect videos from their readers on why adding a citizenship question to the census was a terrible idea. Videos were collected with the free FlipGrid. app. Journalists would prompt readers in their native language about how they felt about being left out of the census and being denied benefits they were entitle to. Respondents could make their thirty second recording from either a phone or laptop. The videos collected were edited into a short video montage using iMovie.

Building a StoryMap
Journalists are already natural storytellers. They can make their stories even more engaging by adding rich content such as videos, images, maps and music. EMS chose StoryMaps to explain the proposed change to the census and how their readers could make their objections heard. The EMS StoryMap shows how to deliver a compelling, timely message. It weaves the EMS video montage, images from Unsplash, and a YouTube video into a call for action with three core elements.
1. Background: How a census impacts the lives of people it counts – and does not count.
2. Proof: What people feel about adding a question about citizenship to the census.
3. Call to action: What they can do to demand a fair and accurate census.

Getting exposure for your message
It's hard to get your message heard in a media saturated world with ever shrinking attention spans. EMS got exposure for their StoryMap without having to pay for advertising, by relating it to an issue trending in the press.

The  opportunity arose when Congressman Steve King from Iowa asked “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”. His question generated a lot of media attention. Racism was the theme is common between EMS StoryMap for a fair census and Steve King’s comments. EMS quickly adapted their StoryMap by changing the title page to include an NBC video news clip about King. This aligned the StoryMap to the headlines without affecting the rest of the StoryMap.

GIF of the StoryMap Leave Racism out of the 2020 Census

Another StoryMap published during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings used a similar approach to encourage voting for ProChoice candidates. It was featured in Newsweek.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a StoryMap is mightier still. Liven up your stories with videos and maps to keep readers engaged and time their release with the news cycle for better press coverage. Smooth sailing!

Co-Founder, DemLabs

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