Making Local Elections Count
This Spring, the Center for Community Media (CCM) at CUNY’s Newmark J-School piloted the City Elections Initiative (CEI) to improve sustainability and deepen civic engagement in New York City’s community media sector during the 2021 local and citywide primary election season. Through a range of programming, consultative efforts, and original interactive tools, CEI sought to support community media publishers in accessing their fair share of election-related advertising dollars, and to expand their coverage of an election taking place during an ongoing pandemic, with an exceptionally crowded candidate field, and in the first year New Yorkers would use ranked-choice voting.
According to New York City Campaign Finance Board data, political campaigns spent at least $1.53 million on community media (in all formats) between January and June, 2021, much of it delivered within a two-to-three month window just before the June 22 primary election. Using CEI resources and tools, community media publishers were able to access this meaningful, concentrated cash infusion, many for the first time. Publishers were also able to establish relationships with candidates, campaign staffers and political consultants that open up doors to future advertising sales and to higher-quality coverage of local politics in the long term.
CEI functioned as a resource hub and liaison between key players in political campaigns for local and citywide elected office and publishers and journalists in community media, offering one-on-one consultations with both political campaign stakeholders and community media publishers. It augmented this consultative outreach with original tools aimed at building awareness of community media’s reach and transparency around campaign-related advertising.
Through a new city reporting fellowship, candidate forums, and specialized training opportunities, CEI also supported community media in producing high-quality, in-depth election coverage for communities that are often overlooked in the electoral process. Thirty City Reporting Fellows produced 120 deeply reported stories or detailed explainers in nine different languages for more than 15 communities and neighborhoods across the city. CEI hosted a series of forums with 12 mayoral candidates throughout the election season, giving 169 community media journalists an exclusive opportunity to ask the questions at the top of their readers’ minds. CEI offered specialized trainings on covering local elections, developing explainers, and the ethics of political advertising, which were open to all community media publishers nationwide.