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Engaging student voters: One Vote NC delivers election coverage statewide

With early voting set to begin in the swing state of North Carolina on October 15, college newspaper collaborative One Vote NC has launched an online voter guide and election newsletter to help inform student voters across the state.

We followed up with Sonia Rao, The Daily Tar Heel’s city & state editor, to find out what they’ve learned since the Voter Guide went live, how the response has been since our previous conversation and advice for journalists seeking to reach young voters.

What are the top three things you learned from preparing the 2020 Voter Guide?

Rao: The first thing that we learned is just how much work it takes to engage readers and really take into account what they want from our coverage. We tried to focus on the issues that students told us they cared about, which means that we had to do a lot more research. 

Also, from the back side of things, communication was really important. It took a lot of coordination among all of us, especially with coordinating the print voter guides, and all of the different distributors. 

And the last thing we learned is that we — I mean all of us went in hoping that we can make an impact — and I think we came out believing that we did. So just knowing that college news organizations truly can make an impact on what college students think, and prepare them for the election was something that I personally came out of the project with. 

What are some of the ways you connected with your readers to bring them the information they needed?

Rao: At the beginning of the summer we created a survey and we spread those surveys to our respective student bodies through social media. … We collected from those surveys questions that students wanted us to answer with our general election coverage, and also issues that they cared about. Some of the big ones that were a common theme around every school were the environment, education in general, health care, civil rights. So the survey was the big piece. 

And for the Daily Tar Heel, we have been utilizing a texting service to reach readers. … We are currently releasing a podcast centered around voting for students. So we’ve really been trying to focus on digital and multimedia forms of coverage, due to what we’ve heard from our students.

How has the response been so far to One Vote NC?

Rao: Awesome. I’ve heard a lot of great responses from my peers and on social media. Obviously, I’m not really on campus so I can’t see people picking up the voter guides in the  boxes or anything like that, but just through social media and other avenues, it has been really great. I’m really proud of everything that we’ve done. 

What practical advice can you give to other journalists who wish to connect with younger voters?

Rao: Listen to them. Listen to what they want. Traditional print voter guides and long articles full of information aren’t necessarily always what students want, and I’m speaking as a college student myself. I think the biggest thing is to just make sure you’re reaching out to students and making them feel like they have a voice and making sure that  if you want to reach younger voters, the coverage that you create should match what they want and what they’re more likely to be engaged with.

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