Community Radio Plans for Election Night

This article appeared in NFCB’s October newsletter. Subscribe here:


2020 has been a period for community media to step up and help audiences talk about and understand situations that have changed life as we know it. Racial equity, COVID-19 and the economy have defined the year. As a bellwether of our cultural divide, the contrasting approaches of Donald Trump and Joe Biden to these and other policy matters have similarly shaped the lead-up to Election Day.

Without the budgets of commercial media, community outlets may not be able to do the expansive coverage we would like. However, we can surely do community-centered conversations and discussions about local impact that the big companies covet. The pandemic’s impact on voting, trust in media, and polarized discussions on elections are just three of the many topics dominating discussions this year. In addition, election security is a top concern for voters. Noncommercial media is positioned to tell this story as few can.

Every station needs ideas and tools. How can you use what resources you have – limited funds, volunteer help and passion for community – to make the biggest difference? All eyes will be on the contest for the White House, but state and local seats, amendments and propositions will have ripple effects in your area. Or perhaps the story is less about the races themselves, but more about campaign aspects such as the emergence of conspiracy theories like QAnon or drives to register young voters in your region.

With less than one month left before Americans head to the polls, community radio stations are pressed to actively address the elections for the next few weeks and beyond. Here are a few ways your organization can prepare:

  • NFCB allies at First Draft News are the most respected voices in journalism when it comes to tracking election misinformation online. This campaign, its staffers have tracked misinterpreted viral photos, harassment of health officials and conspiracy theories in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Their report and resources can benefit stations ramping up to cover national, state and local races.
  • Staff from the American Press Institute’s Trusted Elections Network visited last month with community radio stations at NFCB’s community media newsrooms meetup, and its guide to covering elections is filled with great insights. Among the recommendations: learn what the state of election administration policies is in your area, and how it has changed; explain how ballots are verified and counted; and prepare audiences to wait for election results.
  • This month, the Associated Press offers a series of webinars on how it plans to cover nearly 7,000 races this November. Among the conversations include how local media can spot misinformation and do their own fact-checking (Oct. 15); week-out planning and resources (Oct. 29); and election night and the storylines to track (Oct. 22). Register once and you can attend any of the sessions free. Webinars will be at 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT /10 a.m. PT.

You are invited to subscribe to NFCB’s weekly roundup of web posts for more resources as community radio covers the 2020 election.

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