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Ohio media join forces to give voters more of a voice

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    A line forms to check in for voting at Friendship Park Community Center in March. The Ohio Media Project, which includes The Blade, is kicking off a project called Your Vote Ohio.

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The Ohio Media Project, which includes The Blade, is kicking off a project called Your Vote Ohio. We'll provide accurate and insightful coverage of this year's presidential race in Ohio — from polls to campaign advertising. Stay in touch using #YourVoteOhio.

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A group of Ohio newspapers, including The Blade, and TV and radio stations have banded together to flip the conversation between presidential candidates and voters — allowing voters to get their concerns addressed by the candidates.

The project — Your Vote Ohio — will involve polling throughout the campaign and will study the effects of negative advertising on the campaigns and on voting patterns.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded a $174,990 grant to the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics for the initiative. 

The institute is working with the Ohio Media Project — led by the Akron Beacon Journal and the Minnesota-based nonprofit Jefferson Center — to give Ohio voters a stronger voice and to encourage more accountability from candidates.

 

As part of the Informed Citizen project, statewide polling by the Bliss Institute and public conversations assembled and moderated by the Jefferson Center will help media outlets identify the issues that need to be examined and discussed with candidates, organizers said.

“Working with the Ohio news media, we hope to change the way the presidential campaign is covered in Ohio,” said John Green, director of the UA’s Bliss Institute. “The goal is coverage focused on issues rather than just on which candidate is ahead and which is behind.”

About 20 Ohio newspaper, radio, and television news organizations are working together on the project.

CTY-toledovote16p-voting-stickers

A line forms to check in for voting at Friendship Park Community Center in March. The Ohio Media Project, which includes The Blade, is kicking off a project called Your Vote Ohio.

THE BLADE
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said he couldn’t think of “another example of this collaboration at this level, which involves small papers, large papers, radio, and TV working together to make sure citizens are better informed.

“Living in Ohio, where we know we’re going to be ground zero again in this presidential election ... we could play an unbelievably important role. Let’s get the candidates to talk about the most pressing issues,” he said.

Asking candidates the questions citizens want to know rather than letting politicians drive the conversation is “a big change,” Beacon Journal Managing Editor Doug Oplinger said.

“Often, we identify problems,” he said. “This time, we want to explore solutions, too, so that citizens feel they have an opportunity to participate in conversation, take action, make a difference.”

The project grew out of work done in Akron in 2012 by the Beacon Journal, the Bliss Institute, Jefferson Center, and the faith community exploring the growing vitriol during the election season.

That effort, called the Ohio Civility Project/​America Today, found through polling and focus groups that news media are blamed most for allowing the anger to continue in public conversations.

The Informed Citizen project is also part of other statewide media collaborations planned throughout the presidential election.

The Ohio Media Project already jointly published stories on Ohio’s high level of disgust with government and a series on the state of Ohio’s work force. 

“Relevant, quality news and information is a cornerstone of strong democracy,” said Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation director for journalism. “Through this project we hope to create lessons for newsrooms looking to engage and connect with audiences around elections, while contributing to a deeper understanding of the issues that people care about most.”

About 2,000 adults statewide are being surveyed by telephone in a random sampling, Mr. Green said. The survey includes open-ended questions that allow people to define their top issues and concerns in their own words.

Regional differences among residents also will be explored.

Those same people will be resurveyed in August and in late September or October closer to the general election to see whether their opinions have changed and whether they believe the candidates and media have addressed their most important issues, Mr. Green said.

The Jefferson Center will then host groups of people to discuss the issues identified in the polls.

Betty Lin-Fisher is a staff writer for the Beacon Journal newspaper in Akron. She can be reached at 330-996-3724 or at blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter.

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